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Understanding searches and seizures

On Behalf of | May 29, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Many people get intimidated when facing law enforcement officers, and sometimes the intimidation causes some individuals to comply with the officers’ requests, even those that are unreasonable. This is true for many searches and seizures. However, this can impair a person’s rights, especially if it turns out that the search and seizure were illegal.

Here are a few things to remember about searches and seizures.

The general rule: there must be a warrant

The Constitution protects its citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. When is it reasonable? Generally, law enforcement officers must conduct a search and seizure according to a warrant for it to be reasonable. Judges issue warrants based on probable cause and include the details of the particular person or place to be the subject of the search and seizure. Otherwise, a warrantless search and seizure is unlawful.

The exceptions: when a warrant is not necessary

There are, however, a couple of circumstances wherein a police officer does not need a warrant to search a person or place or seize a property. This includes, but is not limited to, the following exceptions:

  • Consent: It is a person’s right to refuse a search. However, if you give the law enforcement officer the approval to look through your person or property, your consent makes the search lawful.
  • Plain view: Police can search your person or property if suspicious items such as liquor (in a DUI stop), illegal drugs or harmful weapons are in plain view. This also applies when officers can smell alcohol or drugs, even if they cannot actually see the item.
  • Legal arrest: If the law enforcement officer is arresting you for a crime, they can lawfully search your person and property.

If you find yourself in a situation wherein a police officer stops you and asks to search your person or property, remember that you have the right to refuse. If you believe that you are a subject of an illegal search and seizure, you may be able to use this as a defense in court.