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Search and Seizure Laws in Colorado: What Are My Rights?

Posted on 09/28/23

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides you with crucial rights, protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Essentially, this means that a police officer cannot arbitrarily search your person, your vehicle, or your home without a warrant or without circumstances that lead to an exception to the warrant requirement. 

“The 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 per- sons or things to be seized. “

There Must Be a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy 

If you have no reasonable expectation of privacy, then you likely do not have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  A reasonable expectation of privacy typically applies to situations or places where you, in your ordinary daily life, would anticipate a degree of personal privacy. These can include your home, car, or personal belongings. The test for this concept, originating from Katz v. United States, defines the criteria to make this determination: 

“The individual has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy…The expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.”

This sounds quite subjective, but over the years, the courts have ruled on many different cases that have defined and redefined what exactly this means. 

For example, individuals expect and are generally granted a high degree of privacy within their own homes. Police officers typically need a warrant – backed by probable cause – to legally enter and search your residence.

If law enforcement acts without obtaining such authorization first (or without the presence of an exception), they are violating your Fourth Amendment rights.

Ultimately, whether someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Exceptions To The Warrant Requirement

While the principle stands that searches generally require a warrant, there are certain situations where law enforcement can enact what’s known as a “warrantless search.” These are exceptions to the rule, and the most common include:

Consent to Search: If you voluntarily grant police officers permission to conduct a search of your person or property, they do not need a warrant.

Search Incident to Lawful Arrest: If you are legally arrested, law enforcement has the right to perform a search of your person and nearby areas within your immediate control for weapons or evidence.

Plain View Doctrine: If incriminating evidence is clearly visible without intrusion – say a gun that can be seen through a car window during a traffic stop – officers have rights under the plain view doctrine and can seize the item without obtaining a warrant. 

Exigent Circumstances: If a situation unfolds where immediate action is necessary – such as preventing the destruction of evidence, pursuing a fleeing suspect, or attending to an emergency that threatens life or safety – officers may bypass the usual warrant requirement under what’s known as “exigent circumstances.”

Legal Recourse If Your Rights Are Violated

If you believe your search and seizure rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment were violated, it’s crucial to obtain legal assistance. An experienced defense attorney in Colorado Springs can analyze the circumstances of your case to determine if there was an infringement, advise on potential defenses, and propose a course of action.

One of the most common remedies is to file a motion to suppress evidence. This legal move asks the court to exclude any evidence that was obtained illegally or without proper procedures being followed. Additionally, any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal evidence is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and should also be excluded. 

For example, suppose a police officer conducts an illegal search of your home without a warrant and finds a key to a storage locker where they later discover stolen property. In this scenario, not only could the key be suppressed due to it being obtained through an unlawful search (the “poisonous tree”), but the items in the storage lockage should be suppressed as well – “the fruit.” 

Understanding your rights regarding search and seizure laws in Colorado is essential. If you believe that evidence against you was obtained unlawfully, you have options. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.