If you are accused of theft, you have the constitutional right to consult with a defense lawyer, and you should fully exercise this right. Never take legal advice from anyone but your attorney. A defense lawyer will protect your constitutional rights throughout the criminal investigation and court process. It may even be possible to beat a theft charge altogether – even if it is a felony.
The Warrant Requirement
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures executed by law enforcement officials. The amendment states that searches and seizures may be conducted only after a warrant is issued to the police by a judge. Additionally, the warrant can only be issued on a showing of probable cause.
Going into further detail, the police must first apply for a warrant from a judge. Their application must establish that there is probable cause to believe evidence of a crime exists and that the named suspect is a party to that crime. If the judge finds the request well-founded, the warrant is then lawfully issued to the police, allowing them to legally search the suspect’s home and vehicle, and seize the incriminating evidence named in the warrant.
Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement
The Fourth Amendment allows for certain exceptions to the warrant requirement for search and seizure. The “plain view doctrine” is one of these exceptions. If, for example, an officer is lawfully present on a public street and sees marijuana plants growing in someone’s front yard, the officer can seize these plants without a warrant.
“Exigent circumstances” is another exception allowed in the Fourth Amendment. For example, if a police officer hears a person screaming for help inside a house, the officer may enter the residence without a warrant and search for the person in distress. It is worth noting that the exception may not apply if the officer continues to search the residence after finding the victim and securing the scene.
The “plain view doctrine” and “exigent circumstances” are only two of the warrant exceptions outlined in the Fourth Amendment. Due to confusion stemming from constitutional law, even experienced law enforcement officers may not understand and apply these exceptions properly. An experienced defense lawyer will determine if a warrant exception was incorrectly used to perform a search and seizure on your property, thus trampling on your constitutional rights.
What Happens if the Police Perform a Search without a Warrant or Valid Exception?
If a search or seizure was illegally executed by law enforcement on your person or your property, your attorney can request that the court exclude evidence that was found as a result of the improper action. Imagine a theft case where the prosecution is not allowed to present the stolen property found by officers. If there is no accompanying confession or other evidence, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince a jury that the defendant was a thief. The prosecution may be forced to dismiss the charges altogether. Even if the prosecution or court does not dismiss the charges against you, the prosecution’s case will be severely weakened without the stolen goods as evidence.
Your Miranda Rights
Thanks to television dramas and movies, most U.S. citizens are familiar with the Miranda Rights read to a suspect as they are taken into custody by the police. The Miranda Rights advise the suspect that they:
- Have the right to remain silent
- Can be prosecuted with any statements they make if they choose to give up the right to silence
- Have the right to an attorney
- Can be appointed an attorney if they cannot afford one.
Your Miranda Rights come from the protections provided by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Just as search and seizure violation invalidates any evidence that may be found on your person or property, a Miranda violation can result in evidence being excluded at trial.
The Right to Remain Silent
The “right to remain silent” comes from the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. The state cannot force you to testify against yourself at trial. Similarly, the state cannot force you to make a confession that will incriminate you before charges are filed. This constitutional protection is why the police must advise a suspect that they have the right to remain silent. You do not have to make incriminating statements to the police. If law enforcement officers want you to provide one, clearly state that you are invoking your right to silence and will not answer any questions about the charges without your attorney present.
The Right to Counsel
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel. (the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright later guaranteed the right to an attorney for defendants who are unable to pay for one.) You will need to answer basic booking questions (such as name, date of birth, address, etc.), but do not have to answer incriminating questions about the alleged crime without a lawyer present. Additionally, it is your right to refrain from deciding on a plea deal offer until you have consulted with your lawyer.7/10, entered into WebISS – MK;