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Know Your Rights in a Police Search


As American citizens, we are granted a certain level of freedom and privacy against unlawful government intrusion under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. With that being said, these freedoms are not unlimited. Under certain circumstances, the police may search a person’s home, vehicle, or other property in order to identify and seize illegal contraband, stolen items, or criminal evidence. But what exactly can the police do during a search, and what are your rights?

The police may legally do any of the following:

  1. Perform a “reasonable” search of your property: The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution dictates that the police may perform a search when it is considered “reasonable.” To satisfy this element, the police must have a valid reason to suspect that a person is guilty of wrongdoing, known as “probable cause.” Without probable cause, the police may only perform a search with a court-issued warrant or your consent.
  2. Search when there is no “legitimate expectation of privacy”: The police may legally confiscate evidence or illegal items which are left in plain view or when a person does not have a privacy interest in the items or evidence without a “search” ever legally occurring. For example, if a person leaves a bag of heroin on the hood of their car, the police may seize it without contest.
  3. Use an informant or firsthand intelligence: The police may use either their own intelligence or information gained from a reliable informant to justify a search.
  4. Search with your consent: The police may perform a search of your property without a warrant or probable cause if you consent to the search. Inviting the police into your home is often sufficient to be considered “consent.”
  5. Search beyond the bounds of a warrant: Although search warrants are limited and are only valid for a specific area, the police may search beyond these limits if necessary to protect the safety of others, prevent the destruction of evidence, or if evidence suggests that further evidence may be found nearby.

Things the police MAY NOT do include:

  1. Use illegally obtained evidence against you: Any evidence that is gathered by the police during an illegal or unreasonable search may not be used to your detriment. Likewise, any illegally obtained evidence cannot be used to justify further searches.
  2. Coerce you into consenting to a search: Consent for a search must be expressly given, meaning the police cannot trick you into agreeing to a search.
  3. Frisk you without probable cause: If the police do not have a valid reason to suspect that you are guilty of criminal activity, they may not pat you down during a “stop and frisk” situation.
  4. Search your vehicle: Generally speaking, the police may only search your car during a traffic stop if they have probable cause to believe you are armed or in possession of contraband, such as drugs. According to a recent Supreme Court ruling, the passenger compartment of your vehicle may only be searched if you were within reaching distance of it at the time of the search, or if the police have a reason to believe that the vehicle contains evidence related to the arrested offense.

Arrested? Contact Naegle & Crider PLC

If you have been arrested following a search and believe that the police have violated your rights, contact the knowledgeable Mesa criminal defense lawyers at Naegle & Crider Criminal Defense Attorneys today. Our team of aggressive advocates can examine the circumstances surrounding your arrest and determine if an unlawful or seizure occurred.

Call (480) 418-0776 today to discuss your legal options in full detail.

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