Wrongful or Unlawful Search and Seizure Cases in Mississippi

Our American criminal justice system offers freedom from wrongful or unlawful search and seizure, specifically guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. What this means is that a police may not search you, your home or your vehicle, and may not seize any item resulting from an unlawful search without probable cause. Probable cause means there is a very good reason to believe a person has committed a crime, or that evidence of a crime can be found in a specific space.

Isn’t a Warrant Necessary?

Generally speaking, a warrant is necessary to search a person or that person’s home or vehicle. If there is probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime, an officer of the law may convince a judge to issue a warrant, authorizing him or her to search a specific area. Otherwise, in cases where officers have reasonable cause to believe a suspect is about to destroy evidence of a crime inside his home, the officers may be justified—under the law—to enter the home, search the home, and seize that evidence, all without a warrant.

What About My Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

Further, you must have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” in a certain place or thing, or the police may search and seize without a warrant. Generally, you would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in any of the following places:

  • Your business office;
  • Your luggage (so long as it is not transparent), even when you are carrying it in a public place such as an airport;
  • Your car’s trunk or glove box;
  • Anywhere you live—home, apartment, condo, hotel room, etc., and
  • A public telephone booth, once you shut the door.

On the other hand, items which are in plain view (drugs or a weapon on the front seat of your car), portions of your business office or building which are open to the public, public places such as restaurants, and even your trash, once you have placed it at the curb for collection, are fair game for law enforcement. So, the Fourth Amendment applies to a search only if you had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place or thing searched. If not, there are no protections, because there are no privacy issues. In order to determine whether you had a legitimate expectation of privacy, the courts generally use a two-part test:

  • Whether you actually expected some degree of privacy, and
  • If your expectations were reasonable—whether those expectations are ones which society is willing to recognize.

As an example, when you go into a public restroom, you have the reasonable expectation that you will not be spied on. Most everyone would agree with that, including judges. On the opposite side of the reasonable expectation of privacy debate, if you were stopped by an officer for a traffic violation, however the officer sees your firearm, laying clearly on the front seat, you cannot claim a reasonable expectation of privacy (even though it is your car), because the gun was clearly visible to the officer.

What Happens When a Wrongful or Unlawful Search and Seizure Occurs?

If the court finds that an unreasonable search has occurred, any evidence seized as a result cannot be used against you during a criminal prosecution. This is known as the exclusionary rule, and is necessary in order to deter police from conducting unlawful or wrongful searches—if the police know any improperly obtained evidence will be excluded, they are less likely to engage in an unlawful search.

Law Would Have Allowed Police in Mississippi to Enter a Home Without a Warrant

In March 2015, House Bill 1261 was introduced, which would have allowed police officers to enter any home, regardless of whether they had a warrant, if there was a pit bull dog on the property. Although the bill was ostensibly introduced to create civil and criminal penalties for failure to keep dangerous dogs under restraint and/or confined, in fact it would have also removed the protections people have regarding unreasonable search and seizure. Due to the overwhelmingly negative response to House Bill 1261, it died before reaching a vote.

Mississippi Case Regarding Unlawful or Wrongful Search and Seizure

One case of unlawful or wrongful search and seizure was decided by the Court of Appeals of Mississippi v Corwin T. Hill in 2003. Corwin T. Hill appealed his conviction by a Desoto County Circuit Court jury for possession and sale of a controlled substance, claiming the evidence seized was the product of an unlawful search and seizure. The basic facts of the case were that Agent Charles Terry approached Hill’s vehicle and asked Hill to exit so he could pat him down for weapons. As Terry checked Hill’s person, Hill lunged back into the vehicle, reaching under the driver’s seat.

Agent Terry claimed he thought Hill was reaching for a weapon, so he handcuffed Hill, then searched the car for weapons. He found no weapons, but he did find cocaine. Hill was later convicted of possession of cocaine, based on the evidence taken from the search of Hill’s car. The Court of Appeals ruled against Hill, essentially saying the agent did not conduct a wrongful or unlawful search and seizure due to the fact that the agent had reasonable cause to believe there might have been a gun in the vehicle, based on Hill’s actions. In other words, if Hill had not acted so suspiciously, the agent would not have had reasonable cause to search the car, and the drugs would not have been found.

Where to Turn if You are the Victim of Wrongful or Unlawful Search and Seizure

Another problematic issue related to wrongful or unlawful search and seizures in the state of Mississippi, is asset forfeiture which is basically when a police department seizes your property (cash, automobiles, or other property) to keep, or sell for the gain of their department. This is accomplished by a police officer claiming the property was involved in a crime, therefore the department can take ownership of the property.

If you are the victim of a wrongful or unlawful search and seizure in Desoto County, Southaven, Olive Branch or Horn Lake, contact the Stroud Law Firm. Our experienced attorneys will ensure your rights are protected and that you have an advocate in your corner who will not back away from taking on a local police department or sheriff’s department when they have failed to follow proper procedure and violated your rights. Call the Stroud Law Firm today at (662) 536-5656, for the assistance you need and are entitled to.