What is Unlawful Search and Seizure in Utah?

One of the most important legal protections we have is our right against unlawful searches and seizures by the police. Law enforcement officials must follow very strict protocols if they want to conduct a search for evidence.

There are multiple ways the police can conduct a search and possibly seize someone’s personal belongings. Searches of your home, car, or physical person follow similar rules against unlawful searches. However, each of these searches also involves rules and laws unique to the situation. If the police conduct an unlawful search and seize evidence illegally, that evidence must be suppressed. Suppressed evidence cannot be used against criminal defendants, which can seriously hinder prosecutors. It is also important to note that many rules against unlawful searches and seizures come with specific exceptions.

If you believe your home, car, or physical person was searched in violation of the law, our Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys can help you hold law enforcement accountable by suppressing the evidence in question. For a free review of your situation, call Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.

Unlawful Searches and Seizures in Utah

An unlawful search may take many forms, depending on the situation and the conduct of the police. Most searches require a warrant issued by an impartial judge or magistrate. Warrants must be based on sufficient probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found at a particular location. However, numerous exceptions to the warrant rule exist, and it is not always clear when a search or seizure is unlawful. Our Murray criminal defense attorneys can help you identify tainted evidence that should be suppressed.

Home Searches

A search of your home by law enforcement officials is considered one of the most significant invasions of privacy under the law. A person’s home is private, and anything they do behind closed doors is shielded from the prying eyes of the government. However, the police may search your home without consent if they get a valid search warrant.

As mentioned above, a search warrant must be based on sufficient probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found in your home. The warrant must specifically state what kind of evidence the police expect to find and exactly where they expect to find it. Warrants should not be vague and do not permit the police to ransack your home.

A search of your home is unlawful if the warrant is invalid or based on insufficient probable cause. If the police attempt to search your home based on an exception to the warrant rule, the exception must be valid. Once the police begin their unlawful search, it is difficult to stop them. The best course of action is to immediately speak with our Ogden criminal defense attorneys and get to work on suppressing any evidence seized.

Car Searches

Most people consider their cars or other vehicles private spaces, but the law considers them less private than the home. While nobody has a right to enter your car without your permission, the contents of your vehicle are not exactly secret. Most vehicles have windows that allow passersby to see into the vehicle, and the mobile nature of cars makes getting search warrants challenging.

Like a search of your home, the police need probable cause to search your car. Many vehicle searches do not require warrants because the car might be long gone by the time the police obtain the warrant.

The police can also search your vehicle after you have been arrested. However, the search is usually limited to your immediate surroundings, often whatever was within arm’s reach of the driver’s seat at the time of your arrest.

Even if the police do not search your vehicle after arresting you, they may tow it and conduct an inventory search at the impoundment lot. An inventory search is a general search of the entire vehicle and is conducted for safety reasons. Anything found in the car during an inventory search is fair game for prosecutors.


A stop-and-frisk is when the police stop a person on the street and conduct a pat-down search of their body. Like any other search, the police need probable cause to perform a stop-and-frisk, and they cannot simply search anyone who crosses their path.

Many people are subjected to stop-and-frisks or pat-downs after they are arrested. This kind of search is usually for the officer’s safety, and officers are typically looking for any dangerous weapons or contraband.

The extent of a stop-and-frisk is somewhat limited. Generally, only searches of a person’s outer clothing are permitted. The police must usually refrain from going into a person’s pockets or inner clothing unless they feel something they believe is a weapon. If your stop-and-frisk was arbitrary and the police had no reasons to perform the search, our Logan criminal defense attorneys can help you fight any evidence they seized in the search.

What Happens to Evidence Taken in an Unlawful Search and Seizure in Utah?

If evidence is seized under an unlawful search, the evidence is considered tainted. If your rights as a criminal defendant are to mean anything, tainted evidence must be excluded from your trial, no matter what. The trick is actually proving that evidence is tainted.

To prove the evidence in your case was seized illegally, our Riverton criminal defense lawyers can review the search warrant used by the police for deficiencies. If the probable cause listed in the warrant is insufficient, the entire search can be invalidated. Alternatively, suppose the police went outside the bounds of the warrant and search areas that were not specifically mentioned in the warrant. In that case, any evidence seized from those restricted areas can be suppressed.

Many searches may still be legal without a warrant. The exception to the warrant rule employed by the police must be valid for the search to be lawful. For example, no warrant is required if you consent to the search. If the police coerced your consent, the exception to the warrant rule is no longer valid.

Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys for Assistance

If you, your home, or your vehicle was unlawfully searched by the police, our Layton criminal defense attorneys can help you suppress the tainted evidence and protect your rights. For a free review of your case, call Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.