Search & Seizure

Search and seizure law is easily misunderstood, and those misunderstandings can cause serious problems at every stage of the criminal process. Early in the process, many criminal defendants make the mistake of consenting to a search they could have refused. Thus, they sometimes voluntarily provide evidence against themselves.

If you are facing criminal charges or have been arrested, a criminal defense attorney may explain your rights to you, and help protect them. Connect with an attorney in your area today. Simply fill out the free online evaluation form on this page or call 877-445-1059.

Free Case Evaluation

Legal Searches and Seizures

Sometimes a person suspected of a crime does not realize that he has the right to refuse permission to search. At other times, the suspect may feel that he can bluff his way through the search by pretending that he has nothing to hide. In either case, law enforcement ends up with incriminating evidence, legally obtained, that might not have otherwise been available to them.

On the other hand, the assumption that the police need a warrant for every search can lead to a false sense of security ‒ there are times when a warrant is not required.

The many common misconceptions about search and seizure may seriously jeopardize criminal defense. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a local criminal defense attorney for more clarification and guidance.

Search Warrants

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits illegal search and seizure, but does not eliminate all searches. Generally, a police officer can search when there is probable cause, or a just belief that a search will find evidence of a crime.

In these situations, a judge will issue a search warrant. There are also certain specific circumstances in which a search warrant is not required.

Search Without a Warrant

In most cases where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a search of a private residence, a search warrant is required.

If there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, generally a search may be conducted without a warrant. However, property that is left in plain view, that is readily available to the public, or that has been abandoned or disposed of is generally not protected.

Even where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, some searches may legally be conducted without a warrant.

Exceptions to the Search Warrant Requirement

Police may conduct a search without a warrant if certain exceptions apply:

  • Consent: A person voluntarily agrees to let a police officer conduct a search, even if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, or a roommate or spouse grants third party consent. You do not have to agree to a search without a warrant, however, police are not required to advise you that you may refuse consent for a search.
  • Investigatory Stop: When there is reasonable suspicion that a crime is in progress or is about to occur, law enforcement officers may conduct certain searches without necessity of a search warrant.
  • Search Incident to Arrest: The person was validly arrested and the search was reasonably conducted.
  • Exigent Circumstances: These emergency circumstances apply to a variety of situations under which quick action is required. For example, if officers have reason to believe that evidence is being destroyed, or that someone is injured or otherwise in need of assistance, a search warrant may not be required.

The exceptions to the warrant requirement have been largely defined by case law, and the legal issues surrounding these exceptions can be complicated. Talk with a local criminal defense attorney for more information.

How Does Search and Seizure Apply to My Case?

Courts often have to determine case-by-case whether the circumstances in which the police searched without a warrant were legal. Thus, if a search has already occurred and you are not sure of its legality, talk to a criminal defense lawyer in your area as soon as possible. And if a search has not yet been conducted, make sure that you understand your rights in advance.

Get started by calling 877-445-1059 or filling out our free free online evaluation form, and we’ll help schedule you a free, no-obligation consultation with a defense attorney in your area.

The above summary of searches and seizures is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. For the latest information on these laws, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.