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Criminal DefensePolice Misconduct

When and how can the police search you

By August 7, 2018January 31st, 2024No Comments

Dealing with the police in any way can often be a stressful situation, especially if officers want to search your home, your business, your vehicle, or your cell phone.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, but how is unreasonable defined? Do you know your rights?

When can police search your home or place of business?

In most cases, police need a warrant to search your home. A warrant establishes probable cause because it has to be approved by a judge. But even without a warrant, here are the instances in which a police officer can search your residence:

  • Probable cause – This means that officers have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime inside the home, or that someone inside the home has committed a crime.
  • Consent – You or someone in the home gave police permission to search.
  • Something is in “plain view” – If you have a bag of marijuana sitting openly on your living room table when you open the door for the officer, it gives police probable cause to search your home without a warrant.
  • You’ve just been arrested – After an arrest, police are allowed to search the area where the suspect was arrested to look for criminal evidence.
  • Emergency situations – If someone’s life or the general welfare of the public is in danger, police can search your home without a warrant.

When can police search your vehicle?

Unlike your home or your business, which in most cases requires a warrant, police only need probable cause to search your vehicle. It can’t just be a feeling the officer has. He or she has to have some facts or evidence that something illegal is going on.

When can police search your cell phone?

Just like your home, police are not allowed to search your cell phone without a warrant, because the contents of your cell phone are just like the contents of your pockets. There are exceptions to the rule, however. Here are some of them:

  • Consent – The owner of the phone gave permission for law enforcement to search it.
  • Plain view – The cell phone and/or the contents in the phone were in plain view
  • Public school – The police searched your phone at a public school.
  • Searched after arrest – You were already under arrest when the officer in question searched your phone. Still, officers mostly need a warrant even if you are under arrest, especially if you tell them at the time of your arrest that you do NOT consent to your cell phone being searched.
  • Stop and frisk – You are being stopped because police have “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed, are committing, or will commit a crime.
  • Emergency/police chase – If you were the subject of a police chase, then police might search your phone because they have reason to believe you would destroy evidence related to the pursuit or any crime that happened before the pursuit.

When can police dogs search your vehicle?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is legal for police dogs to search your car during a traffic stop, but officers cannot make you wait longer for a dog to sniff your vehicle.

In other words, the traffic stop should not take any longer than it would have had the dog not been involved in sniffing the vehicle.

There are a lot of rules — and a lot of exceptions — when it comes to police searching your personal property. Countless criminal cases have been thrown out because it was found that officers did not uphold the law when searching for illegal things or activity.

If you or someone you love has been arrested as a result of an illegal search, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to review your case. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.