When do the police have a right to search you or your property and take possession of items that belong to you? Are they allowed to randomly search your automobile if you are stopped for a traffic violation? Can they enter your home or apartment and arrest you? The answer varies depending on the situation. Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, we are afforded certain rights and protections. The police have specific rules that they must follow before they can infringe on those rights.
The Fourth Amendment rights pertain to:
● Your home or business
● Your person
● Your automobile
● Your purse, luggage, clothes, hotel room, shoes, and desk
For example, if the police stop you because you were not wearing your seat belt, they cannot then search the trunk of your car. The trunk of your car belongs to you, and you have the right to expect the items placed there to remain private. If the police are called to your home because your dog is barking in the middle of the night, that does not give them the right to enter your home and search it or to seize (remove) anything they found there. Again, we have a reasonable expectation that our homes are private. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, which we will cover below.
When can the police search you, your property, or your vehicle? While there are many twists and turns in this, the basic rule of thumb is this:
● The police must have a valid search warrant (or)
● The police must have a valid arrest warrant (or)
● The police must have probable cause for an arrest
What if your rights to search and seizure are violated?
The very first thing you need to do is call a qualified attorney. Not only will your attorney defend you against the charges placed against you, but they will also ensure that nothing obtained against you illegally will be used against you in court. In most cases, it is completely discarded and not allowed in court if the search and seizure was conducted illegally, without the benefit of a valid warrant or solid probably cause. Even if you confessed to a crime, if your rights were violated when you did so, it is usually not admissible in court. If that means someone is guilty and the evidence was not admissible, that is the price the police pay. We are a country of laws. Our laws will not benefit anyone who does not follow the letter of the law.
Cooperation and Damage Control
If the police ask you for your permission to search your car or home and you give it to them, they are off the hook. However, if you deny them permission and they search and confiscate items anyway, you are wise to cooperate and then allow your attorney to do damage control. It is never a good idea to become combative or argumentative with a police officer. They may see that as a threat, which may give them grounds to conduct the search you denied them. Never put yourself in danger. Allow your attorney to take care of everything after an arrest.