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Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, every citizen has a right to reasonable expectation to privacy. Attorney Tracey Wood recently won a criminal appeal in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for an illegal search and seizure (an illegal drunk driving stop, arrest and subsequent charges for refusal - refusing to submit to a blood alcohol field sobriety test).
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Search & Seizure
legal & illegal

Van Wagner & Wood, Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorneys

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by federal law enforcement agents and applies that prohibition to the state of Wisconsin, as well as all states, and to law enforcement agents within the states. Unreasonable searches and seizures are prohibited; reasonable searches are not prohibited. The 14th Amendment rights to privacy do not extend into every aspect of a person's private affairs.

Police need not advise you of your rights

Police are required to inform you of your rights if they will use the information you provide against you. Police are not responsible for advising you of your rights to refuse an illegal search. They are not required to tell you if and when they can make a permissible search, nor when they are crossing the line. They need not tell you that you can withhold permission for them to enter your home, nor that police have a right to seize anything in plain view.

Purpose of Search & Seizure

The purpose of a search is to uncover and expose evidence that can then be seized by the police. The purpose of a seizure is to acquire evidence that can then be used against a defendant to prosecute that defendant for committing a crime. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, a stop is a search and an arrest is a seizure.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution is based upon a premise: every citizen of the United States has a right under the Constitution to a reasonable expectation to privacy. However, those rights are limited. The law defines the limits of a person's privacy rights, and the law bases those definitions on the beliefs that its legislators know the desires and concerns of people, being that citizens want police to find, stop and arrest all known criminals. Police however often take liberties in stopping people without probable cause, and arresting people based on illegal foundations.

A Search

A search, in and of itself, violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. Searches are either permissible or impermissible. Permissible searches are often called legal searches, while impermissible searches are often called illegal searches or prohibited searches.

Permissible Searches Are Reasonable Searches

If the violation of a person's expectation to privacy is reasonable, then the search is permissible. A reasonable search can occur with explicit consent or implicit consent. If a person is asked if they may be searched and that person then responds affirmatively, consent has been given to the search. That type of search would be a search by explicit permission - that type of search is reasonable. By giving consent, the searched person no longer has a reasonable expectation to any privacy.

If contraband, paraphernalia, a weapon, or some other piece of evidence or if criminal activity is "in plain view", an exception to consent arises under the law. That type of voluntary exposure allows the police to view the article without a search. Since a search is not needed to view something "in plain view", then there is no violation of a person's reasonable expectation to privacy. To put it another way, the law assumes that if the person intended that which was "in plain view" to be kept private, then he or she would not have placed it in a position where it could be easily viewed by anyone.

A Seizure

Within the context of the Fourteenth Amendment, a police stop is a seizure. If the seizure is reasonable, then it is permissible, otherwise it is a violation of a person's Fourteenth Amendment rights (also commonly termed an illegal search and seizure or prohibited search).

Reasonable Seizure

If a police officer observes criminal activity, or activity which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that it was of a criminal nature, or if an informant provides sound and verified information to the police officer about a criminal activity, then a subsequent seizure is reasonable and permissible. If at the time of a stop, a police officer sees or has a reasonable belief that the suspect is armed, the officer may "pat down" the suspect and seize any weapons that could cause harm to the officer or another person during an arrest.


Checkpoints can be used for a variety of reasons, such as to find drunk drivers, to search for an escaped convict, or to simply check for vehicle registrations. So long as the method employed to select the automobiles that are stopped is reasonable and objective, the checks are permissible. In fact, an officer can ask all occupants of a vehicle to step out of the vehicle, and his request will not violate those person's rights. However, if the officer searches the vehicle, he must have probable cause for the search or a search warrant. If he has a search warrant, then he presumably has probable cause (it was - or should have been - required to get the warrant).

Home Searches

In almost all instances, a search warrant is required for the police to enter a private dwelling. In most other instances when a search warrant is not required, the officer must have probable cause. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

If an officer has an arrest warrant and in the process of executing the warrant in the suspect's yard the suspect gets away and runs into his home, the police have a right to enter the home in "hot pursuit" to make the arrest.

If an officer has probable cause (more than a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed), and he cannot take the time to obtain a warrant without loosing evidence or the suspect, then he may enter and search and seize without a warrant.

An officer may also search a home if he has consent to do so, however, whether that consent allows permissible search of another dwelling member's belongs is quite another story. If the person who gives consent to the search has authority to give the consent, then the search may be permissible so long as it does not violate the rights of another person. The mere sharing of a home (roommates) does not give one roommate authority to consent to a search of the other roommate if there existed a reasonable expectation to privacy.

The right to a reasonable expectation to privacy is a personal right to privacy of the person's physical body and his immediate surroundings. A search includes a person's clothing, body, and immediate surroundings or those surroundings within his reach. For example, a legal search of a person sitting in a recliner would include the immediate area surrounding the recliner as well as the person's body.

Exclusionary Rule

If a search or a search and seizure was impermissible, under the exclusionary rule, the evidence gathered from that seizure is inadmissible in the defendant's criminal trial, except that the evidence may be used to disqualify a witness (called impeaching the witness). And as you might expect, there are exceptions to that rule, too. If the search was to protect the public, if one or more legal searches and one or more illegal searches are conducted, or if the search revealed evidence that would have been otherwise known or produced by some other means regardless of the search, then the search - even though illegal - and the evidence gathered can be admitted into evidence at trial.

The exclusionary rule prohibits evidence obtained in an illegal manner from being used against a person during a criminal trial. Throughout the dialogue above, notations are made when exceptions exist, but even these do not cover all of the exceptions to the rules of evidence for criminal prosecution. The exclusionary rule has many exceptions to determine which is legal and illegal evidence. As well, it is only one legal doctrine used to analyze evidence in a criminal trial, and each procedure (search and seizure) must be analyzed separately.


This website merely mentions some of the highlights of various laws, but it cannot give you legal advice. If you believe that your rights have been violated, if you have been searched, if your property has been seized or stolen, or if you have questions about your arrest or charges, please contact the attorneys at Van Wagner & Wood.

Free Initial Consultation

Attorney Chris Van Wagner & Attorney Tracey Wood, the founders of Van Wagner & Wood, exclusively devote their professional time and energies to defending people who have been charged (or convicted) of a criminal offense or drunk driving. Van Wagner & Wood's criminal defense attorneys will provide you with a brief but professional very straightforward and honest assessment of your case at first glance. That initial consultation is free, but it will give you the information that you need to make the right decisions about your defense.

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