Some readers in Memphis, Tennessee may be somewhat familiar with criminal law by watching movies and television shows related to the subject. However, when individuals must confront the criminal justice system for the first time, the experience may be very intimidating, particularly if they do not know and understand their rights.

One area of criminal law that can be especially confusing for individuals is search and seizure law. Such type of law relates to what police may lawfully do when searching an individual or his property. In cases involving drug charges, the legality of searches and seizures is often at issue. This is due to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule. This rule states that if evidence is obtained in an unlawful manner, it is inadmissible in a criminal trial.

Search and seizure cases are determined by the facts. For example, some individuals are arrested for drug charges after a traffic stop. Recently, a man was pulled over on the highway which resulted in a seizure of approximately 120 pounds of marijuana valued at $240,000. In another case, a man was stopped for a traffic violation and was subsequently arrested for speeding and driving under license suspension. After being arrested for those charges, police then performed an inventory search of the vehicle, where they discovered approximately eight pounds of marijuana.

While it may seem unlawful for officers to arrest a person, and then later perform a search on his vehicle, there are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. One such exception is that when a person is lawfully arrested, officers may perform an inventory search on the person, and seize the items found on him. This includes an inventory search of the person’s car if the car is being held by police, as it was in the case above.

While it is lawful for officers to search a car after it has been impounded, it is unlawful for them to tow the car for the sole purpose of searching it. It is important to note that legal issues may arise when searches like these are performed, including the basis for the arrest and how the officers acted in performing the search. Ultimately, in any search and seizure case, it is essential to have effective legal counsel to determine if the search and seizure was lawful, and to what extent an unlawful search would have on the related drug charges.

Source: WIS TV, “9 month undercover drug operation ends with multiple arrests,” Tenessa Jennings, Jan. 17, 2013