unreasonable search and seizure

Primary tabs


An unreasonable search and seizure is a search and seizure by a law enforcement officer without a search warrant and without probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is present.


An unreasonable search and seizure is unconstitutional as it violates the Fourth Amendment. Further, evidence obtained from the unlawful search may not be introduced in court. This evidence is referred to as fruit of the poisonous tree. In Mapp v. Ohio, 347 U.S. 643 (1961), the Supreme Court held that exclusionary rule  applies to evidence gained from an unreasonable search and seizure. 


Qualified Immunity

A defendant who has been subject to unreasonable search and seizure typically will have no remedy against the police officer who performed the search. This is due to qualified immunity, which is a doctrine that protects government employees when they perform certain actions pertinent to their occupations. A police officer who qualifies for qualified immunity is protected from being personally sued by the defendant.

Because of qualified immunity, the exclusionary rule is often a defendant's only remedy when police officers conduct an unreasonable search or violate the defendant's Miranda Rights.  Qualified immunity usually will extend to officers who violate a defendant's constitutional or statutory rights.

Under qualified immunity, an officer may be sued only when no reasonable officer would believe that the officers' conduct was legal. This exception comes from both Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) (stating an objective standard for reasonableness which "must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene") and Justice Ginsburg's concurrence in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001) (stating that "an officer whose conduct is objectively unreasonable under Graham should find no shelter under a sequential qualified immunity test). 

Further Reading

For more on unreasonable search and seizure, see this University of Florida Law Review article, this Indiana University Law Journal article, and this Harvard Law Review article