The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from illegal searches and seizures. This means that when police officers illegally conduct searches and illegally seize items, evidence obtained as a result of the illegal search and/or seizure cannot be used against the individual to convict them. The starting point in determining whether the search or seizure was illegal depends on the circumstances. To claim that there was an illegal seizure of the person, one must be in police custody and be subject to police interrogation. To claim there was an illegal search, one must establish that they had a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” As one may imagine, these cases are fact-sensitive inquiries. Not every police encounter is an interrogation, nor is every search illegal. In a recent decision analyzed in this blog, the Court of Appeals reiterated this legal point in its decision of Canfield v. State1.
In Canfield, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the admission of evidence of meth found at a Taco Bell following a police search of the restaurant. The relevant facts are as follows: In May of 2018, Police Major Bridges was made aware of an anonymous tip that a male employee at Taco Bell may be selling illegal drugs. Furthermore, the anonymous tip stated that the employee may have the drugs on his person. Acting on this tip, Major Bridges, along with another officer, arrived at the Taco Bell within a few minutes. Upon arriving, Major Bridges identified the individual, Canfield, based on the description received from the tip. Major Bridges asked Canfield if they could speak outside. Canfield agreed but stated that he needed to ask his manager for permission. While going to ask the manager, the officers saw Canfield “dig around his waistband area” and drop something by the food preparation area. The two officers and Canfield then went outside, and the officers informed Canfield of the allegations. The officers observed Canfield become “very nervous.” Major Bridges then went inside the Taco Bell to search the area where they had observed Canfield digging in his waistband. Major Bridges then asked the manager for permission to search the area, and the manager consented. Major Bridges found over four grams of methamphetamine, and Canfield was arrested for possession.
At trial, Canfield filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers illegally detained him, and that the search was illegal. The trial court denied the motion and Canfield was ultimately convicted. Canfield appealed. On appeal, Canfield argued that the trial court erred in admitting the evidence because it violated his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. In upholding the conviction, the Court of Appeals first noted that the search of the Taco Bell was not illegal because Canfield had no reasonable expectation of privacy at this location. Furthermore, the Court noted that a “well-recognized exception to the warrant requirement is a voluntary and knowing consent to search.” Because the manager consented to the search, the Court found that there was no Fourth Amendment violation. In finding that the evidence was not illegally seized, the Court stated that “not all encounters between law enforcement and citizens implicate the protections of the Fourth Amendment.” The Court went on to state that “consensual encounters” where a person voluntarily talks to the police does not implicate the Fourth Amendment. Here, the Court found that Canfield willingly went outside to talk to the officers, and that Canfield was free to leave the encounter. As such, the Court found that Canfield’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated.
This area of law is extremely technical, while also having the potential to completely change the course of your life and result in arrest and conviction. An individual who is unaware of their rights may have them violated without even knowing leading to a negative result such as arrest and conviction in this case. The importance of understanding the status of developments in the law is the key to avoiding criminal liability, as well as being an engaged citizen in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal defense cases and appeals of criminal convictions throughout the state. Knowing the law is a key to be an engaged citizen. Having criminal defense counsel current on the latest developments in law provides you with the best criminal defense. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.