When is a police search illegal?

A family fights back after a police search violates basic constitutional rights.

There are certain situations when police can search property. There are situations when police can search a vehicle and those when police can enter a home and go through personal things. These situations are not common and police must meet certain protocol before such a search is legal.

Generally, the Fourth Amendment provides the protection against unreasonable searches. As such, any search should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the police did not violate the searched individual's constitutional rights when attempting to gather evidence to support allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, such violations are not unheard of. In fact, courts are currently hearing a case that could help remind police of the protocol they are supposed to follow before conducting such a search.

Police single out family for inclusion in massive raid

The case involves a family that started up a garden project in their basement. The project, headed by father and son, was intended to provide a learning opportunity for the son while also yielding tomatoes, squash and other vegetables.

At the time the family was beginning their new hobby, police were running were running an operation referred to as "Operation Constant Gardener." The operation included surveillance of hydroponic garden stores. The surveillance was justified by the contention that many indoor marijuana growing operations were built with supplies purchased from these types of stores. The license plates of those who stopped at the store was recorded and entered into a database. The data would then be sold to local police departments wishing to take part in a massive strike, scheduled to occur on April 20 - a popular holiday for the marijuana community.

Because the family purchased their equipment at one of these facilities, their info was part of this database. They were included in the list of potential targets for the strike. Local enforcement officers searched the family's trash in the hopes of finding evidence to support a warrant request. As noted in a publication by The Washington Post, the officers found suspicious "wet glob vegetation." The material was tested and deemed negative for any illegal substance. The material was found in subsequent searches and officers claim that it tested positive for marijuana with a field kit. The field test was supposed to be collaborated with an official lab test, but the officers did not follow proper protocol. Instead, they used these field test results to support a request for a warrant. The request was granted. The family was now listed to be part of the raid.

Police raid leaves family in terror

Officers knocked on the family's door around 7 a.m. When the father answered, seven officers with guns drawn and a battering ram on the ready forced their way into the family home. The officers took down the father and immediately began climbing the stairs toward the bedrooms looking for the children. At this time, the mother and children race down the stairs.

The family is eventually moved to a couch while the officers conduct a search for narcotics. All they found were vegetables and "wet glob vegetation." After years of frustration and thousands of dollars in legal battles, the family was able to prove what they knew all along. Although police tried to tell the family their teenage son must be responsible for the "wet glob" that tested positive for marijuana, the family knew the officers were wrong. The "wet glob" was, in fact, tea. The mother was known to enjoy a special loose-leaf tea blend from Teavana.

Interestingly enough, both parents are former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers. They are taking the intrusion very seriously and have pursued the case through court. The courts initially ruled in favor of the state, but the family appealed the ruling. A three judge panel disagreed with the lower court and ruled in favor of the family, stating that the police who headed this intrusion "caused unjustified governmental intrusion into the [family's] home based on nothing more than junk science, an incompetent investigation, and a publicity stunt."

Although this ruling may be appealed, the courtroom battle provides a reminder that searches should be carefully reviewed to make sure all proper protocol was followed. A failure to do so can result in a dismissal of charges. As such, anyone facing criminal charges should seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can review your case and make sure your rights were not violated.

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