Search And Seizure Law In Georgia

by | Dec 1, 2020

Explore search and seizure law in Georgia with our comprehensive guide. Learn your rights and protect your interests with expert legal insights.

What is Search and Seizure Law?

Search and seizure law in Georgia, as in the rest of the United States, is fundamentally rooted in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This legal framework is designed to protect citizens’ privacy rights by setting boundaries on the government’s power to search an individual’s person, property, or possessions and to seize evidence. 

The Fourth Amendment requires that searches and seizures be reasonable, and in most cases, it necessitates that law enforcement obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before conducting a search.

In Georgia, search and seizure laws are applied with strict adherence to both federal and state guidelines. These laws determine the legality of police actions in gathering evidence, which can significantly impact the outcome of criminal proceedings. Understanding these laws is crucial for anyone facing criminal charges, as violations of search and seizure protocols can lead to the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence.

What Constitutes an Illegal Search and Seizure Under Georgia Law

An illegal search and seizure in Georgia occurs when law enforcement conducts a search without a warrant and without falling under an exception to the warrant requirement. While there are several exceptions to this rule, such as consent, plain view, exigent circumstances, and incident to a lawful arrest, any search outside these exceptions may be deemed illegal.

For instance, a search based on an invalid warrant, one obtained without proper probable cause or with misleading information provided to the magistrate, can render the search illegal. Similarly, extending a search beyond the scope of the warrant or the consent given by an individual also constitutes an illegal search.

Identifying Lawful Practices

Generally, an police officers can search your person, car, or home with a warrant. If you are suspected of a crime such as drug manufacturing or selling illegal weapons, a police officer can present evidence to a magistrate to obtain a warrant.

There are a few instances, however, where police can search your property and possessions without a warrant. 

For example, in Georgia, the trained perception of the odor of burning marijuana is sufficient probable cause to support a warrantless search of a car. Folk v. State, 191 Ga. App. 58 (1989). Other instances can include the following situations:

  • Consenting to a search: Law enforcement can search your possessions and your vehicle if you consent to a search. If a police officer is asking to look through your things or your property, you have the right to refuse. It’s best to respectfully decline with clear language such as “no, officer. I do not consent to searches.” 
  • Plain view: If you have suspicious items, weapons, or drug contraband/paraphernalia in plain view, an officer can search your possessions and your car without a warrant or your consent. 
  • Stop and frisk: While the concept of stop and frisk has been contested in places like New York City, there was a Supreme Court case (Terry v. Ohio) that upheld a law enforcement officer’s right to pat down suspects of crimes. While these pat downs are normally exercised to ensure that a person isn’t armed, officers can confiscate contraband such as illegal substances if they are found. 
  • DUI Checkpoints: A Supreme Court ruling (Michigan v. Sitz) found that DUI checkpoints where officers stop drivers to check their license, insurance, and registration are permissible. It is also permissible to administer field sobriety tests and breathalyzers at these checkpoints, too if an officer smells alcohol or marijuana or if empty bottles or drug contraband are in plain view. 

Georgia Search And Seizure Defense Law Firm

Illegal searches and unlawful arrests are not so rare. If you have been arrested after a search and seizure, contacting a reputable and experienced criminal defense law firm can be beneficial to your case.

Identifying an illegal search and seizure is the first step in challenging the prosecution’s evidence. If evidence was obtained through an unlawful search, it might be possible to have it suppressed, meaning it cannot be used against the defendant in court. This can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case and, in some instances, may result in charges being dropped or reduced.

At Frye Law Group, LLC, we can examine the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure, as well as the subsequent arrest, to ensure nothing is against the law. Our job is to fight for your rights. If the search and seizure weren’t legal, we will strive to ensure that your charges are reduced to the fullest extent possible.