Judge Says Atlanta’s Warrantless Search Policy Is Unconstitutional
The Constitution protects people from unlawful search and seizure. This means that you don’t have to fear driving down the road, pulled over and having your person or your car searched for what amounts to no reason. Right? Maybe not.
According to a federal judge, Atlanta had an unconstitutional policy of conducting warrantless searches on commercial properties. The ruling came after a case was presented involving the search of a motorcycle club’s meeting space. The judge determined that the amount of damages to be paid to the owner of the motorcycle club would be determined at a jury trial.
For its part, the city is currently deciding the appropriate response. Named in the lawsuit were six police officers, two investigators with the city solicitor’s office and an inspector from the buildings department. The judge also ruled that Devon Brown, the renter of the space and owner of the club, could seek punitive damages.
How This Case Developed
According to court documents, police had search warrants for another business in the area that they believed was selling alcohol to minors. That business was closed, so the search didn’t happen. A sergeant had heard that other businesses in the area were involved in a variety of illegal activities and decided to “attack” those businesses instead. The police entered the space rented by the motorcycle club, believing it was a commercial space, despite signs hanging on the door that indicated it was private property.
Brown, a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy, was arrested and charged with violations of city code. He had not obtained a business license and did not have a liquor license. He was found guilty, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. During court proceedings, an officer said that it was a common practice to enter a commercial establishment and perform “compliance checks” without warrants.
The judge found that the testimony showed that the police had a custom of conducting unlawful searches of commercial properties. Even “compliance checks” must be done with a warrant, and the police were not in the routine of following that policy. Ultimately, it was determined that the police officers and the city had violated Brown’s federal rights.
You Have Constitutional Rights
It is important for people to know that police may not search their property, even if it is a business, without a warrant. Any person who has experienced this type of warrantless search should consult with an attorney to learn more about their rights. This is true whether or not the person was arrested for a crime.
If you have been arrested for a crime in DeKalb County and believe that the police did not behave appropriately, you need assistance. Call our attorneys today to discover more about your legal rights in defending yourself against your charges. If your arrest was based on evidence gathered illegally, we can help you prove it. Reach out to our office to arrange an appointment for a free case evaluation and learn more about your options.