All Maryland police officers receive some sort of training in constitutional laws relating to search, seizure, and arrest. Constitutional law is by no stretch of the imagination the focus of any police academy’s training program. There is just not enough time and too little resources to put every potential police officer through a rigorous classroom curriculum on the search and seizure laws. Even if this training were available, there are no guarantees that each trainee would retain the information, and or use it in while working out in the field. This is not to blame police officers, as it is much easier to sit down and write an essay on constitutional law than it is to follow decades of case law and statutory restrictions during the heat of an arrest. Yes, it is true that some police officers intentionally conduct illegal searches and seizures, and make bad arrests, but good intentioned police officers face the daily challenge of making split decisions to protect life and property, and sometimes there is just no room for the constitution. Therefore police officers will make unlawful arrests, and execute unlawful searches and seizures, and this should be the first issue that any criminal defense lawyer should investigate in any criminal case. But this blog entry is dedicated to those people who wish to avoid ever needing a criminal defense lawyer to address an unlawful arrest. Knowing the basic search and seizure laws is not a foolproof way of avoiding an arrest. Each year thousands of drug prosecutions for substances such as marijuana and cocaine are carried out using evidence that was illegally seized. In addition, hundreds of DUI investigations are initiated after police make an illegal traffic stop. But knowing the law just may help you get out of a sticky situation, and it certainly cannot hurt.
The two most common places where police officers commonly conduct unlawful searches are the home and the car. This blog entry will offer a basic overview of the Maryland law regarding search, seizure, and arrest. Keep in mind that this law continues to evolve and is never black and white. Under Maryland law, and the United States Constitution, the home has always been considered a protected and even sacred place for all citizens. A person’s right to be free from unwanted government intrusion in the home is one of the fundamental liberties afforded to us by the Constitution. Translate; never let the police in your home without a warrant. In Maryland, police are not allowed to enter a person’s home absent a search warrant, arrest warrant, or what are called exigent circumstances.
A valid search warrant must describe the specific places that are to be searched by police, describe the evidence used to substantiate the warrant, and be signed by a judge. Police are required to knock and announce their presence before entering a home to execute a search warrant unless the judge specifically grants permission for police to break in. Police are also required to conduct the search during reasonable hours unless the judge approves an immediate or nighttime search. If a Maryland police officer knocks on your door, demand that he or she produce a search warrant. Do not even open the door to speak with the police, as they may observe evidence that will allow them to legally enter, or they will just enter illegally and say you consented. If you feel the police have entered your home illegally, do not use force to try to get the police to leave, but rather cooperate and try to memorialize all the actions of the cops. Take pictures of any damage caused by cops, and even call police to report a crime if you feel the police have committed one.
The law on exigent circumstances is highly subjective, and it is difficult for any criminal lawyer to predict how a judge may rule on a motion to suppress evidence that was seized under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant rule. Full articles and even books can be written about exigent circumstances, but its most basic definition is that it allows police officers to enter a home if they feel there are extraordinary issues that may justify an immediate warrantless entry to a person’s home. The most commonly litigated exigent circumstance is the destruction of evidence. Police officers often enter a person’s home during the course of a drug investigation and justify this entry by stating they believed the drug evidence would be destroyed if they left the scene to obtain a warrant. If police illegally entered your home without a warrant and found drugs such as narcotic pills, marijuana plants, or cocaine you may have a winnable motion to suppress. Maryland law does allow police to enter the home to prevent destruction of evidence, but a judge must agree that the cop’s actions were reasonable for the search to stand. Part two of this blog entry will go into more detail about exigent circumstances, and will review the laws of automobile searches in Maryland.
Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal lawyer, specializing in drug possession, drug sale, and DUI cases. Contact Benjamin at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your criminal case.