Let’s say you’re hanging out with friends on a weekend, kicking back at home, perhaps taking in a football game or movie on TV, and suddenly police are banging on your front door. Do you have to let them in? In fact, do you have to speak to them at all? The answers to these and other questions that may arise in such situations may vary. The bottom line is that you, like all Ohio residents and those throughout the nation, have rights.
If you know your rights ahead of time as well as where to turn for immediate help if a problem arises, you may be able to mitigate circumstances that involve police requesting access to your home or searching your house, car or person. It’s no secret that even if you know you’re innocent, there is no guarantee that such circumstances will play out in your favor.
Remember this: Police do not have free rein!
Law enforcement officers must act within reason when conducting searches or seizures against you. Let’s be clear about something: If police are at your door, asking questions and requesting to come inside, you are the subject of investigation. It is absolutely true that prosecutors can use anything you do or say from that point on to incriminate you if you face charges down the line. The following facts regarding your Fourth Amendment rights and the search and seizure process may help you overcome a problematic situation:
- If police search your car, home or person, they must be able to show they had cause to reasonably assume you had committed some sort of crime.
- They must also prove that they believed their search efforts would reveal probable cause that you had, indeed, taken part in illegal activity.
- You have likely heard that police may not conduct a search without a warrant. Do not listen to this misguided information. The fact is that police conduct many searches (if not a majority of them) without first showing warrants, and various circumstances exist that would make such actions lawful.
- Police must act within your lawful expectation of privacy. There are certain items to which you may not have a privacy interest, making seizure of such items by police fair game.
The bottom line is that you can challenge proffered evidence that you believe police obtained in violation of your constitutional rights. In fact, others charged with crimes in Ohio in the past have sometimes successfully sought dismissal of their cases based on personal rights violations.
Even if the court does not dismiss your entire case, a judge may render certain evidence inadmissible if you can show that investigators or other officials violated your civil rights.