It is not an uncommon scenario for law enforcement to search a home and create a mess or even damage the property. They may create chaos and find nothing that they were looking for, which means that your home was ransacked for nothing. If this has happened to you, you may be feeling angry, stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. In fact, you may be confused about what to do and where to turn when it comes to knowing how to pay for this damage or even who is responsible for paying for it.
Our Maryville criminal defense attorneys at Shepherd & Long, PC are here to guide you through this difficult process. If you are in a situation that seems complicated or tricky, we can help explain your rights and legal options going forward. Today we offer guidance on what to do if your house is searched by police officers and things are damaged.
Why would authorities search my home – and is it legal?
Most of the time, a search warrant must be issued in order for a house search to be legal. A search warrant is a court order given by a judge. This special order authorizes police officers to conduct a search of a house, a car, or a person in which there may be evidence related to a crime. If there is evidence found, law enforcement is allowed to confiscate and present it to the court.
The Fourth Amendment states:
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 person or things to be seized.
This means that law enforcement is given permission to legally search a person or their property and take evidence while they are looking into criminal activity – as long as they have probable cause.
It is important to know that there are some circumstances where police officers can search a home or person without a warrant. For example, if there is probable cause, a search warrant is not required. Examples of probable cause that would make sense for officers to search a home are if a gunshot is heard or a suspect runs from the cops into the home. If there is no probable cause, the officer will need to get a search warrant.
What to do if your home has been searched and damaged
If your home has been searched and left damaged by law enforcement, you should immediately get in touch with a lawyer who has experience in these types of cases. You typically have a certain amount of time to report this type of damage. Therefore, it is highly recommended to document the damage by taking photos, videos, and notes, and provide all evidence to an attorney who can help you navigate the process of filing a claim.
Tort claims and qualified immunity
An attorney who is knowledgeable when it comes to the laws surrounding these types of issues will most likely bring up two important terms, which are tort claim and qualified immunity. Below, we will tell you about these two terms and how they relate to your case.
A tort liability claim is a method in which individuals who have experienced damage by the State can file a claim for their damages. Tennessee is one of the few states in America that utilizes this method. If you can prove the damage to your property was caused by law enforcement, you are eligible to file a claim.
The courts will look at whether the police officers were justified in the damage they caused during their search. If their actions are found to be justifiable, it may be the owner’s responsibility to pay for the damage caused to the home. However, if their actions were judged unreasonable, the government and taxpayers will pay for the damage.
Actions performed by police officers may also fall under the term qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a legal defense that protects government officials from “liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” This was explained in 1982 in the Harlow v. Fitzgerald case linked above.
In simple terms, qualified immunity shields law enforcement and government officials from being personally sued for a lot of things. Therefore, when officers are accused of harming an individual or being involved in misbehavior, they have this known protection called qualified immunity.
Should you tell the officers they have done wrong by damaging your home?
You may have the urge to go to the police station and tell them how wrong the law enforcement officers were that damaged your home. Although you are most likely right, it is best that you remain silent, document the damage that was caused to your property, and seek out an experienced lawyer. Your lawyer will do the hard work in showing that the officers acted wrongly or unreasonably, as well as ensuring that justice is served and that you are given the compensation to fix your damages.
If police officers have recently searched your home and left it damaged, do not hesitate to get in touch with the criminal defense attorneys at Shepherd & Long, PC. Even though these cases can become difficult quickly, we want you to rest assured, knowing that we will do everything in our power to make sure that your voice is heard. We serve Maryville and Blount County. If you are located in the area and need assistance with this matter, please call our office or complete our contact form today and a member of our staff will contact you as soon as possible.