An illegal search and seizure is a search and seizure which falls outside the boundaries of the law. Any evidence obtained in such an action can be excluded from a trial because it was obtained by illegal means. Furthermore, if materials uncovered in such a search and seizure are used to find additional evidence, this evidence may also be excluded under the legal doctrine known as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” unless law enforcement can demonstrate that this evidence could have been obtained by other means.
This term often comes up in the context of law in the United States, although other nations also have search and seizure laws. Under the law, citizens are entitled to certain privacy rights which can come into conflict with police searches and seizure of evidence. The law provides strict rules for situations in which searches need to be conducted. If the rules are not followed, it can result in an illegal search and seizure.
For example, if a police officer searches a home without a warrant in the United States and takes some mail as evidence, this is an illegal search and seizure. Likewise, if a police officer has a warrant to search a house but also searches a garage and removes evidence from the garage, this would be illegal because the officer exceeded the scope of the warrant. Conversely, if someone gave free and willing consent to a search or a police officer identified something in plain sight, such as an illegal object sitting in a window, this would be considered legal.
Police officers are not necessarily required to have a warrant for all searches, which is something important to be aware of. There are situations in which a police officer can act on probable cause that a crime has been committed, including suspicions that there is a clear and present public danger. For example, if someone is driving highly erratically and swinging a bottle of alcohol and a police officer pulls this person over, the car can be searched.
Law enforcement are not required to advise people of their rights when conducting searches. However, they are generally careful to avoid violating rights because if personnel conduct an illegal search and seizure, the resulting evidence cannot be used in court. Police officers and criminal investigators do not want to jeopardize a case by failing to follow the law during a search.