All of us have a fundamental and constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by the government. Like other constitutional rights, our protections against unreasonable search and seizure restrict the government, and generally those acting as agents of the government. Our rights to free speech and not to incriminate ourselves and not to be stopped and searched for no good reason are all enforceable against the government, generally not private citizens or private companies.
Protection From Unreasonable Search By the Government
Our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure contained in the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are supplemented by rights in the constitution of our state, and again by various statutes. This right in particular is so important, in part, because it is so personal. It is the right to go for a walk or a drive with some assurance of privacy in our persons and property. In one sense, it is a promise of freedom from harassment. In another, it is a recognition of and respect for personal dignity. But of course protections contained in statutes, and even in Colorado’s constitution, are readily threatened by lawmakers with short-term goals. These protections have been the subject of many debates in courts, and Attorney Vernon Ready has had the pleasure of participating in many of these. Courts and lawmakers have wrestled with limitations on these rights, and interpretations of related statutes, leaving the law in this area relatively convoluted. The lawmakers behind the evolving statutes and the judges who interpret them are often operating under pressure from police or prosecutors whose primary goal is conviction. Any judge overwhelmed by a busy docket could find themselves tempted to curtail and weaken our fundamental rights for the sake of efficiency.
Protection That Must Be Enforced
It falls to the accused, and those who represent them, to protect the rights of all of us to be free from government overreach. It is our responsibility to stop the system when the system becomes destructive of basic and fundamental rights. Our identity as a people is at stake. It may be too much to expect the criminal justice system to honor that truth day in and day out. It can be difficult to see and feel the importance of this issue when it is reduced to the daily grind and bustle that is a county court docket. Over time, it seems rights we want to hold sacred and preserve are inevitably narrowed, restricted, and chipped away under the pressure of a justice system that must resolve its millions of accusations each year.
Some of the weight of this issue falls upon judges who must always try to do right when momentum and efficiency favor just moving the accused through the system as quickly as possible. But in practice, that will never happen on its own. All our rights are conceptual until the accused and their attorneys take a stand and make them matter. We must question the validity, legality, and reasonableness of every traffic stop, every pat down, every backpack searched. We have to fight as hard as we legally and ethically can to deny the government the use of evidence it has obtained while disregarding our rights and circumventing our freedoms. We must be willing to stop the prosecution process and point out errors and overreaches. We then have to fight to deny the government the benefit and use of tainted evidence.
Tainted Evidence/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Some people struggle to understand why suppression of evidence would be the right thing to do in any circumstance. Without a doubt there exists a contract or agreement between our people and our chosen government. We argue that the government should not violate a central tenant of that contract for the purpose of attempting to enforce another aspect of it. These very old rights are central terms of that contract. They are not obstacles for police and prosecutors to work around. They are not challenges for the justice system to overcome. They are the foundations of the system itself, and the sources of its authority and credibility.
For those who understand these rights, and furthermore can see just how precarious is the idea of individual rights at all, there is no other option but to protect them. The government can never be allowed to use tainted evidence that was obtained in violation of our fundamental constitutional rights. Whether that is a confession, physical evidence, or test results does not matter as much as the need for the courts and the government, in their role as enforcers and the holders of all the relevant power, to set an unblemished example of moral authority. Tainted evidence must be suppressed. At Ready Law we are fully committed to identifying violations of our clients’ fundamental rights, and then doing everything possible to prevent the government from using evidence gained in the process of trampling those rights.
The law governing when, how, and where police can stop and search continues to evolve, and unfortunately questions regarding the legality of a specific stop or search are best answered by a knowledgeable attorney after a full evaluation of the facts of a specific case. However, through all the evolving rules and laws that apply to this area, the fundamental tension between rights to be free and efficiency of prosecution continue. If you have questions about whether evidence in your case was legally and properly obtained by law enforcement, call our office to schedule a consultation. Your case might make a difference.