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Illegal Search and Seizure and Civil Rights Violations in New York

Civil rights violations, including instances of illegal search and seizure, are profound breaches of justice and personal liberty. The law enforcement agencies entrusted to uphold the law should never become perpetrators of these violations. Victims of these violations have every right to seek justice for the harm caused. In New York, if you've experienced infringements on your civil rights, especially concerning illegal search and seizure, seeking guidance from an experienced New York civil rights lawyer is paramount. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, we are dedicated to ensuring your rights are safeguarded and providing the expertise needed to navigate cases of illegal search and seizure. Your rights matter, and we are here to protect them.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, stands as a sentinel, guarding the rights of citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. It reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

At its core, the Fourth Amendment embodies a delicate balance, allowing law enforcement to fulfill its duty while safeguarding individuals from arbitrary invasions of their privacy. Any violation of this balance constitutes an infringement upon an individual's civil rights.

Illegal search and seizure occur when law enforcement officers conduct a search or confiscate property without a valid warrant, without probable cause, or without consent. Probable cause, a critical legal standard, refers to the reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed, justifying the search or seizure.

Here are key aspects to consider when addressing illegal search and seizure:

  • Lack of Probable Cause. Searches or seizures without a reasonable basis to believe that a crime has occurred or is occurring violate the Fourth Amendment. In Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that arrests without probable cause violate the Fourth Amendment, reinforcing the importance of this legal standard.
  • Warrantless Searches. Searches conducted without a proper warrant or in situations where a warrant is required constitute an illegal search. In Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) the U.S. Supreme Court case established that warrantless searches violate the Fourth Amendment's protections, highlighting the necessity of obtaining a proper warrant.
  • Exclusionary Rule. Evidence obtained from an illegal search or seizure is generally inadmissible in court, discouraging law enforcement from violating Fourth Amendment rights. In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), the U.S. Supreme Court case established the exclusionary rule, making unlawfully obtained evidence inadmissible in state criminal trials, fortifying Fourth Amendment protections.
  • Exceptions. Certain situations, such as consent, exigent circumstances, or plain view, may exempt searches from the warrant requirement, provided they meet specific legal criteria.
Civil Rights Violations

Illegal search and seizure not only breach Fourth Amendment protections but also infringe upon an individual's civil rights. Such violations can result in significant harm, including:

  • Loss of Privacy: Intrusions into personal spaces, such as homes or vehicles, violate a fundamental sense of privacy, causing emotional distress and mental anguish. In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001) the U.S. Supreme Court was ruled that the use of thermal imaging technology to surveil a home without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment's protections, reinforcing the importance of privacy within one's residence.
  • Wrongful Convictions: Evidence obtained illegally can taint a case, potentially leading to wrongful convictions and irreparable damage to an individual's life. In Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975), the U.S. Supreme Court established that evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful arrest or detention is inadmissible, underlining the critical role of legal and constitutional procedures in obtaining evidence.
  • Chilling Effect on Free Speech: In the context of illegal search and seizure pertains to how the fear of unwarranted government intrusion can inhibit individuals from exercising their freedom of speech and expression fully. When individuals are apprehensive about potential surveillance or invasion of their privacy without proper legal justification, they may refrain from speaking out on important matters or participating in activities that are protected by the First Amendment.
Legal Recourse in New York

Victims of illegal search and seizure have the right to seek justice. One way is to challenge the evidence during the criminal procedure by filing a motion to suppress the evidence, making it inadmissible in court. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), established the exclusionary rule, making unlawfully obtained evidence inadmissible in state criminal trials, fortifying Fourth Amendment protections. In addition, with the help of an experienced civil rights attorney in New York, victims have the right to file civil lawsuits against law enforcement agencies or officers responsible for the violation, seeking compensation for damages.

  • Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603 (1999). In this U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court held that the media's presence during an execution of a search warrant at a private residence violated the Fourth Amendment. This case affirmed that the violation of privacy, especially through media presence during searches, is a significant concern and can lead to compensatory claims for damages.
  • Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987). In this U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court established the doctrine of qualified immunity for government officials, including law enforcement officers. Qualified immunity shields government officials from being held personally liable for actions taken in the course of their duties, unless they violated clearly established constitutional rights. Understanding this doctrine is crucial for assessing the potential for compensation in civil rights violation cases.
  • Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009) This U.S. Supreme Court case emphasized that an isolated negligent act by law enforcement, as opposed to a systemic or recurring problem, does not violate the Fourth Amendment. This case clarified the parameters for seeking compensation in cases where an illegal search or seizure was an isolated incident due to negligence rather than a deliberate violation of constitutional rights.
Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Navigating the complex terrain of illegal search and seizure cases demands legal expertise and a deep understanding of civil rights. If you believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, seeking legal guidance from experienced civil rights attorneys serving New York is crucial. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, our skilled team is dedicated to upholding your rights and seeking justice on your behalf. Contact us today for a comprehensive evaluation of your case and a steadfast defense of your civil liberties. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Long Island, and Westchester County.

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