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Using California’s Exclusionary Rule in Drug Cases

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and provides that search warrants can be issued only upon “probable cause.” When police violate these strictures, any incriminatory materials obtained in the search — such as illegal drugs — cannot be admitted as evidence. This is known as the exclusionary rule.

Using this remedy effectively in a criminal defense requires an understanding of its limitations under federal and California law. The protections apply only to places where a person would have a legitimate expectation of privacy. This generally includes one’s home, business premises, hotel room or motor vehicle. But even these places are not private to the extent that they are in plain view, such as the interior of a car parked on a public street or a house’s open porch visible from the roadway. The plain-view exception has been used more frequently as surveillance technology has improved.

Another limitation is that only unreasonable warrantless searches are banned. Searches conducted in a valid arrest or with the consent of a premises owner are considered reasonable, as are those that occur in exigent circumstances, such as the pursuit of a fleeing suspect or preservation of evidence about to be destroyed.

Even a search conducted with a warrant or under one of the warrant exceptions may be illegal if it goes too far. The police cannot go beyond the property described in the warrant itself, and a search conducted in the arrest of a suspect in his home must be restricted to the area in his immediate control.

If a search is found to be illegal or to have exceeded its lawful limits, the exclusionary rule applies not only to the evidence seized but also to any additional material obtained as a result. This material is referred to as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” For example, if the police unreasonably search your house and find a note that says “deliver the drugs to 5 Maple Avenue” and drugs are later discovered at that location, those drugs will be subject to exclusion even with a valid warrant.

In drug cases, it is important to assert your constitutional and statutory rights as soon as possible. When faced with a police request to search your home, workplace or vehicle, you should always demand to see a warrant. If none is produced, you have no obligation to consent to the search. Your next move should be to call a defense attorney, whether or not you are placed under arrest.

To learn more about the exclusionary rule and how it may affect your California drug charge in Hollywood or the greater Los Angeles metro area, consult Amber Gordon, Attorney at Law as soon as possible. We can advise you of your options and work to develop a defense based on the facts of your case. Call us at 310-773-3980 or contact us online to arrange a consultation at our Los Angeles office.

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