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  • Writer's pictureAccess to Justice: Trial Lawyers

Can Law Enforcement Search Me?

Law enforcement cannot detain and search you unless they have an articulable suspension that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. Evidence that is found in violation of this standard of reasonable suspension can be excluded from court proceedings as it is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

If law enforcement can articulate a reasonable suspension that you are engaged in breaking the law, then law enforcement can detain you. And in detaining you they can ask for identification.

When stopped by law enforcement, always expressly determine if you are being detained by the inquiring law enforcement officer.

Expanded Answer:

Law enforcement must have a reasonable suspension that you are engaged in something unlawful where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot, the officer may briefly stop the suspicious person and make ‘reasonable inquiries' aimed at confirming or dispelling his suspicions.

In addition, to determine whether a particular encounter constitutes a seizure of a person, a court must consider all the circumstances surrounding the encounter to determine whether the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officer's requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.

To follow up that point “certain constraints on personal liberty which are seizures for purposes of the Fourth Amendment may still be justified even though there is no showing of "probable cause," if there is "articulable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime."

Therefore, in addition to Missouri Constitution “the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution' prohibit searches and seizures that are not supported by some objective justification governs all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest.

In some circumstances a person may be detained briefly, without probable cause to arrest him, but any curtailment of a person's liberty by the police must be supported at least by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity. A reasonable and articulable suspicion is something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.

Furthermore, the law states that the police may not seek to verify their suspicions by means that approach the conditions of arrest. The brevity of the invasion of an individual's Fourth Amendment interests is an important factor in determining whether the seizure is so minimally intrusive as to be justifiable on reasonable suspicion.

Advanced Expanded Answer:

A person is seized “when the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident indicates that ‘a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.’ ” State v. Sund, 215 S.W.3d 719, 723 (Mo. banc 2007), quoting, State v. Werner, 9 S.W.3d 590, 600 (Mo. banc 2000). State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees 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.” 2 U.S. Const. amend. IV. A person is seized “when the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident indicates that ‘a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.’ ” State v. Sund, 215 S.W.3d 719, 723 (Mo. banc 2007), quoting, State v. Werner, 9 S.W.3d 590, 600 (Mo. banc 2000). State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

A suspicion is reasonable when, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the officer is “able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868 State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

Under Terry, “ ‘Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 373, 113 S.Ct. 2130, 124 L.Ed.2d 334 (1993), quoting, Terry, 392 U.S. at 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868. State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

The normal rule is that “all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is ... inadmissible in state court.” Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961). Application of this exclusionary rule extends beyond the direct product of a constitutional illegality. It also requires exclusion of the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” that is, “evidence discovered and later found to be derivative of a Fourth Amendment violation.” Miller, 894 S.W.2d at 654. State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

Similarly, in Taber, 73 S.W.3d at 707–02, an officer stopped a vehicle because he believed it was missing a necessary front license plate, and only after the stop did he realize the car was licensed in Kansas, which does not require a front license plate. The officer unlawfully continued the detention, however, by asking the driver for her license. Id. at 702. Upon checking her identification, he discovered she had an outstanding warrant and arrested her. Id. In the subsequent search incident to arrest, the trooper discovered marijuana in her purse. Id. Taber agreed with the defendant that the trial court should have suppressed the marijuana as fruit of the poisonous tree, stating:

Evidence is considered fruit of the poisonous tree where its seizure directly results from an illegal search and/or seizure. Miller, 894 S.W.2d at 654. Here, in claiming that the evidence sought to be suppressed was fruit of her unlawful seizure, the appellant argues that the trooper would not have known about the outstanding warrant for her arrest, which not only resulted in her arrest, but the search of her purse incident thereto and the seizure of the marijuana, if he had not first obtained her state identification card, which directly resulted from her unlawful seizure. State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

As Dixon put the matter in approving exclusion of tainted evidence notwithstanding the existence of a warrant discovered after the illegal detention already had occurred:

Corporal Grissom ‘seized’ Mr. Dixon before obtaining information that there was an outstanding warrant for Mr. Dixon's arrest. The State concedes that Corporal Grissom did not have reasonable suspicion prior to learning of the outstanding warrant to justify a seizure. Accordingly, the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal seizure must be suppressed as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ 218 S.W.3d at 22. State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011)

Similarly, the inevitable discovery rule, closely related to the independent source doctrine, provides that evidence obtained through unlawful means may be admissible if it can be shown that the same evidence would have been inevitably discovered in a lawful manner. Nix, 467 U.S. at 444, 104 S.Ct. 2501 State v. Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138 (Mo. 2011).

If you have any questions or know someone that may be the subject of illegal search and seizure and need legal representation near you please give us a call at:

Joplin area: 417-553-4352 or Kansas City: 816-503-6739

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