Police officers have an important job to do – the job of enforcing the law. Police officers cannot, however, do whatever they want to do in their efforts to enforce the law. The Constitution of the United States grants us numerous rights that include our Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The police – whether intentionally or unintentionally – sometimes violate search and seizure restrictions, and these Fourth Amendment violations can play a significant role in the outcome of your criminal case.
There are some places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For instance, when you are in your home or your car, an officer cannot randomly insist on conducting a search without trampling on your Fourth Amendment rights in the process. In order to conduct such a search, the officer must first obtain a search warrant, which must be predicated on probable cause that there is evidence of a crime to be found within the premises.
Although an officer generally needs a search warrant to conduct a search, there are certain circumstances under which they may perform a search in the absence of a warrant. These include:
- If you consent to the search
- If the officer can see evidence of a crime in plain view (Read about motions to suppress evidence)
- If the officer finds your abandoned property (for instance if the officer sees you throw a bag)
- If your vehicle is impounded
- If the officer conducts a search incident to arrest – He or she can search you and any areas within your immediate control for weapons or anything else that could endanger him or her.
- If the officer has probable cause to believe that your vehicle contains evidence of a criminal act or contraband – Because our cars are mobile, obtaining warrants is not always feasible. If an officer has probable cause, he or she can search any part of your vehicle’s main area – but not your truck or any locked compartments. A traffic stop in and of itself is not probable cause. (Read more about the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion)
Seizure can refer to the unlawful seizure of evidence or to unlawfully arresting or detaining you. Generally, an officer must have a warrant to make a lawful arrest, but there are highly specific circumstances when this is not the case, including:
- The officer has probable cause, which means he or she has more than a hunch that you committed a crime.
- The officer believes a warrantless detention is necessary to prevent you from fleeing, to protect the public, or to prevent the destruction of evidence.
An officer can detain you briefly – say at a traffic stop – on the reasonable suspicion that you violated the law – a lower standard than probable cause.
If You Are Facing Criminal Charges, Contact an Experienced Attorney Today
If you are facing criminal charges, Attorney Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is committed to fighting for your rights – including your Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. We are here to help, so please do not hesitate to contact us or call us at (254) 220-4225 for more information today.