The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This means, in simple terms, that the government (police are part of the executive branch of government) cannot unreasonably search for evidence of a crime. Reasonable searches are permitted if they are supported by a warrant based on probable cause or one of the exceptions to a warrant.

Regardless of the question of reasonableness, the police might stumble upon evidence of criminal activity that was taken in violation of a person’s privacy, yet still be allowed to use the evidence in court.

Evidence illegally seized by private citizens is permissible as evidence in court

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to private citizens, but only to the government. Therefore, if one’s neighbor illegally burglarizes his house and in doing so, finds evidence of a crime, that evidence can be furnished to police and used against the criminal offender/burglary victim. Even though the evidence was seized in illegal fashion by the burglar, and even though the burglar will face criminal charges of his own, no law will exclude it from being used as evidence in court because it is not “fruit of the forbidden tree,” as evidence seized in violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights is often called. Only evidence seized by the government in violation of a citizen’s rights can be considered fruit of the forbidden tree.

However, police cannot circumvent Fourth Amendment protections by affirmatively utilizing private citizens as agents to find damning items or materials to be used as evidence of criminal activity. If a defendant can demonstrate any effort on the part of police to induce a private citizen to violate his privacy in order to retrieve evidence, any evidence thereby seized will be deemed inadmissible, just as if the police seized it, themselves. It is only when police are unwitting and completely disconnected recipients of evidence that they may use it to arrest, charge, and prepare a case against a criminal defendant.

Invoke your Constitutional Rights, Get Legal Representation

If you or a loved one is being charged with a crime and evidence was taken from your home, vehicle, mailbox, or other private location from which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, do not allow your rights to be violated. If not contested, the court will allow evidence to be admitted. The authors of the Constitution and its amendments carefully crafted the language in this precious document to protect you from government tyranny and oppressive searches. A skilled lawyer is able to demonstrate when a violation of a defendant’s rights has been committed by police. Contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation. Serving the Seattle and Puget Sound areas.