December 28, 2022

What Constitutes Illegal Search and Seizure in New Mexico?


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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy of all citizens. You have a right against unreasonable searches and seizures of your personal property from your person, home, business, and other places where you can reasonably expect privacy. There are legal safeguards to protect your privacy against illegal searches and seizures.

New Mexico Search and Seizure Laws

Both state and federal laws protect you against illegal searches and seizures. You cannot be searched, and your property cannot be taken unless law enforcement has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.

However, specific wording in the New Mexico state constitution makes the application of this 4th Amendment right unique. This wording led to a definitive ruling in the case State v. Gomez.

Because of this case and others, “application of the New Mexico Constitution’s protections regarding search and seizure can lead to better outcomes for criminal defendants than the application of the Fourth Amendment protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.” In other words, the New Mexico Constitution offers you more protection than does the U.S. Constitution.

When Is a Warrant Needed?

In most situations, law enforcement must have a search warrant to search a person or their property and seize property.

If an officer has information that indicates you may be involved in a crime, they must seek a warrant from the court. Their request must have enough information to show probable cause that a crime was committed.

If officers want to search a specific person or location, they must have information showing that the person or place was involved in the crime. A police officer cannot just get a warrant based on a hunch.

Exceptions to When a Warrant is Needed

There are some exceptions to when a warrant is necessary, including:

  • The circumstances are emergent
  • The search will protect law enforcement or others from immediate harm
  • Evidence is in plain view of an officer
  • An officer is making an inventory of things collected during an arrest (all other regulations must be followed)
  • The person voluntarily consented to a search

If any exceptions apply, a police officer or investigator may perform a search. If they find illegal objects, they can seize them under these circumstances.

When Is a Search and Seizure Illegal?

A search and seizure is illegal if an officer does not have probable cause that a crime has been committed. If they do not have a warrant to search you and there is no specifically mentioned circumstance as an exception, then any search and seizure may be illegal.

What Happens to Evidence Found Illegally?

Evidence recovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure may be excluded from the case. It would be considered inadmissible because it was obtained illegally.

Evidence obtained from an illegal search and seizure is called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine excludes illegally obtained evidence.

Your criminal defense attorney can file a motion to exclude evidence obtained illegally. Without that evidence, the prosecutor may not have enough information to support your charges. If that is the case, then your charges may be dismissed.

It’s important to know that there are ways law enforcement can keep this evidence in a case. For example, if the prosecutor can prove it would have been discovered naturally regardless of the illegal search, it may be allowed to stay. You must work with a lawyer who can dispute these claims.

What to Do If You Believe You’ve Been Illegally Searched

It can be hard to challenge the validity of a search and seizure. You will need to have solid proof that your rights were violated.

You may be able to obtain evidence, including the officer’s body camera, eyewitness statements, and the police report. You will likely have to fight against the claims of the law enforcement officer.

If you think you were illegally searched, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney and tell them what happened. Write down exactly what happened and collect as much information as possible. Provide your lawyer with as many facts as possible.

Contact Harrison & Hart, LLC Today

If your constitutional rights have been violated, you have options regarding how to proceed. Your best step is to contact a criminal defense lawyer at Harrison & Hart, LLC. We will immediately start working on your case and ensure your rights are protected.

Call us today at (505) 295-3261 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

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We’re ready to help you get your life back on track.

From our office in Albuquerque, Harrison & Hart, LLC serves clients throughout New Mexico. We are focused on getting you the best outcome possible in the harshest of situations.

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