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Unreasonable Seizure Can Dismiss Criminal EvidenceHow long are police allowed to wait before requesting a warrant to search a computer they have seized as criminal evidence? An Illinois court determined that eight months is too long in a recent criminal case and suppressed the evidence found on the computer. In People v. McGregory, the state accused the defendant of manufacturing fraudulent credit cards to commit identity theft, based on evidence from equipment seized during an unrelated warrant search of his home. To understand the facts of this case, it may help to start with an explanation of rules regarding searches and seizures.

Lawful Searches

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment states that citizens shall not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means police must obtain a warrant to conduct a search of someone that they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime. A warrant authorizes police to search at a specified location and seize specified items that are related to the suspected crime. However, the police may be allowed to seize unspecified items during a lawful search if:

  • They are in plain view.
  • There is probable cause to believe that the items were used in committing a crime.

In People v. McGregory, the police officer had a warrant to search for drugs and weapons but saw equipment that is used to make fake credit cards and cards that had names of people other than the defendant.

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Police Must Prove Probable Cause Before Obtaining WarrantIn order to conduct a search of a person or premises, police officers must obtain and present a valid warrant. A judge will issue a warrant based on the information presented in an affidavit from a police officer. The affidavit must show that there is probable cause to believe that criminal activity has taken place and that a search will turn up evidence of the crime. Even if a judge approves a warrant and police conduct a search, you can challenge that the warrant did not establish probable cause, which would allow you to suppress evidence from the search.

Establishing Probable Cause

A police affidavit must describe in detail what they are searching for and why they believe that a crime has been committed. For instance, a police officer can request a warrant to conduct a blood test based on evidence that they reasonably believe a driver is under the influence of alcohol. When requesting to search a private residence, the affidavit must show probable cause by:

  • Presenting objective evidence of criminal activity at the residence and involving the accused parties; and
  • Establishing the credibility of the source of that information.

A police officer who claims to have witnessed the alleged criminal activity is generally considered a reliable source, based on their experience in such cases. Other sources are less reliable, particularly when they are police informants who may be providing information in exchange for leniency on their own criminal charges.

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