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How Does the Fourth Amendment Apply to Criminal Defenses?

When you are facing any kind of criminal charges, it is essential to begin working with an aggressive Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible on a defense strategy. The best defense strategy for your case will depend upon the particular circumstances of your arrest, and the specific elements of the criminal offense for which you are facing charges. In some criminal cases, the defense of entrapment may be key to beating the charges you are facing, or you may be able to prove that you have an alibi and have been wrongly accused of the offense. In some cases, it may be possible to build a defense based on a constitutional violation. In particular, if the prosecution’s evidence against you was obtained during an unlawful search or seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it may be possible to have that evidence thrown out and to get the charges against you dropped.

 The following is some key information about how the Fourth Amendment applies to criminal defenses in Texas.

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Under the Fourth Amendment, a law enforcement official, in general, must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is likely to be committed in order to stop (and briefly detain) a person. In order to conduct a search—which can include a search of a person, including a breathalyzer test or a literal search of a person’s pockets to a search of a person’s home or vehicle—law enforcement officials must have either a warrant or probable cause.

Beyond the general protections under the Fourth Amendment, whether or not a search is lawful will also depend upon where the search occurred and under what circumstances it occurred.

A Search of Your Home or Vehicle May Have Been Unlawful

If your home or vehicle was searched and law enforcement officials obtained evidence from your property that has become the basis of the charges against you, it is critical to determine whether the search may have been unlawful. Without a warrant, the police must have probable cause to search a home in most circumstances unless the owner gives consent to the search, there are exigent circumstances, the search is incident to a lawful arrest, or the items that have been taken are in plain view.

The law views vehicles slightly differently in circumstances involving road or highway checkpoints, when narcotics dogs are sniffing vehicles, or when a car is at a border. Depending upon the specific circumstances, reasonable suspicion may not be necessary for a sobriety checkpoint stop or to have a narcotics dog sniff a vehicle. Similarly, at a border crossing, your car likely may be searched without a warrant or probable cause. 

Unless an exception applies, however, a warrantless search of your home or vehicle without probable cause may allow you to beat the charges you are facing. 

Contact a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer

Are you facing charges for a criminal offense in Texas? If you have questions about the Fourth Amendment or specific defense strategies, one of our experienced Houston defense attorneys can assist you. Contact The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates for more information.