The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ Constitutional Rights against unreasonable searches, however these rights are not maintained in cases of mistaken identity.
Photo by: Ben Tesch
Mistakes are known to happen, and sometimes when those blunders are made by law enforcement it can result in the wrong person being arrested. One of the areas where law enforcement has been known to slip-up occasionally is with mistaken identity. Police can often confuse an innocent person with a suspect due to issues such as address typos, similar names, or matching physical description. When this occurs, it can have prolonged emotional and even criminal repercussions.
When cases of mistaken identity are seen as the blunders by law enforcement that they are, those officers involved may end up temporarily or permanently removed from their position in the police department. They may also face civil lawsuits brought out by those they wrongly identified. Last year an Indiana man named DeShawn Franklin was awarded a whopping $18 settlement for a case of mistaken identity that took place four years prior. During the incident in question, officers entered the home Franklin lived in with his parents and went into the high school senior’s room where he lay asleep in his bed. After the startled teenager struggled due to the frightening scene, officers then punched him several times and hit him with a Taser gun before hauling him off to jail.
Photo by: Lil Treyco
It turned out that Franklin, who matched the police’s description of a slender African-American man with dreadlocks, was not the person authorities were looking for. The man officers were searching for was Franklin’s older brother who wasn’t present at the time.
Sometimes an arrest based on mistaken identity doesn’t end with such profitable settlements and can still result in charges for the person arrested. This can happen if the person wrongfully detained ends up having warrants, being wanted for other crimes, or if illegal contraband is found in their possession during a search. This was the case for a Utah man named Wendell Navanick, who just so happened to share a name and birth year with another Utah man who had an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. When authorities located the warrantless Wendell Navanick, they ignored the man’s statement of being the wrong guy and booked him into the Salt Lake City Jail. During the booking procedure, authorities found drugs on Navanick and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. Although it was quickly discovered that authorities had not arrested the right person, Navanick was still charged with possession related to the drugs that were found on him during the booking process.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution 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 persons or things to be seized. “ The United States Courts adds however, that the Fourth Amendment “is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.”
Unreasonable search loophole
Photo by: West Midlands Police
When a victim of mistaken identity ends up with charges related to a search of their person or property because they were believed to be someone else, that search is not considered unconstitutional by law. In the case of the State of Utah v. Navanick, the defendant tried to claim his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated with the bookings search since it was “predicated upon an invalid arrest” however that claim for an appeal was shot down. The arrest was validated since the officers were found to have probable cause. “The only question is whether it was reasonable for the arresting officers to believe that the person arrested was the one sought.” (Gero v. Hanault). Anyone who is facing criminal charges related to a mistaken identity search is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to ensure that all Constitutional Rights during criminal proceedings are protected.