Illegal Seizures, Your Fourth Amendment Rights, and the Suppression of Evidence in Your Maryland Criminal Trial

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that the “right of the people to be secure… against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” This is one of the most important rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, especially if you are someone on trial for a crime. This right may give you vital tools you can use as part of your defense, such as seeking the suppression of evidence obtained without a warrant. If you’re under investigation or on trial for a crime in this state, you should act immediately to retain an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer who can help you in the protection of your rights.

When people think about the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, they generally will think of “unreasonable searches.” However, the other right ensured within that text – protection against unreasonable seizures – is every bit as important.

Many times, the evidence the police obtained was something they got by first engaging in an illegal seizure. Such was the case recently for one man from Prince George’s County on trial for a gun charge.

The man’s case is a fairly typical example of how the police make these kinds of arrests. While doing a “proactive patrol” in North Brentwood, a police officer noticed a car parked on the side of the road with a man and a woman inside it. Deeming this worthy of additional investigation, the officer pulled his cruiser alongside the car. Another officer pulled his cruiser directly behind the first officer. Together, the two police vehicles blocked the driver’s side of the car.

Once they were close by, the officers allegedly smelled marijuana and saw the man making “furtive movements” and “adjustments to his waistband.” One officer claimed he saw a “bulge” in the man’s pants, so he made both the man and the woman exit the car for a pat-down search. During the pat-down search of the man, the officer “felt something hard that felt like the butt of a gun,” so he lifted the man’s shirt, whereupon he found the gun. An arrest, trial, and conviction for ”wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun” ensued.

The problem was, as the man’s appellate attorney successfully argued, none of this was legal. The moment the police blocked the car, their actions constituted a seizure. The law is very clear that any time the police detain a motorist, whether that motorist was moving or stopped, they’ve engaged in a seizure.

Reasonably Feeling Not Free to Leave = A Seizure

The key, in a circumstance like this, is whether the person on trial felt like he was free to leave. In this case, there was an intersection directly behind the car, another parked car directly in front of the car, a curb to the right and, once the officers arrived, two police cruisers directly to the left. Even if it may have been physically possible to exit the car out the passenger’s side, the “physical presence of two uniformed officers in their marked cruisers positioned as they were” was the sort of action that would leave “a reasonable person with no sense that they were free” to leave, even if it was physically possible.

At that moment, a seizure had occurred and the officers needed “specific and articulable facts” justifying the need for and propriety of a seizure. These officers didn’t have any “reasonably articulable suspicion” at that time, so the seizure was illegal, meaning that the pat-down search and the discovery of the gun were byproducts of the illegal seizure and the gun evidence could not be used at trial.

Many times, law enforcement officers obtain evidence through the use of illegal warrantless searches and seizures. When they do, it is imperative that you have the skilled legal counsel you need to get that illegally obtained evidence excluded at your trial. When it comes to this and other critical maneuvers to strengthen your defense, count on the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to be the powerful advocate you need to get justice. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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