Search and Seizure Law — What Can the Police Do?

by Monty Yolles on October 17, 2012

Search and Seizure Law

In this country, our forefathers felt strongly about our right to privacy.  The Fourth Amendment of our constitution prohibits law enforcement from unlawfully searching and seizing a person’s property:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Many cases have been appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court over the years by defendants who challenged their convictions based on an allegedly unlawful search and seizure of evidence.  The Supreme Court’s decisions on those cases helped define not only when a person has a right to privacy, but what the police can and cannot lawfully do when searching for evidence.  

First, a right to privacy exists only where a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  The operative word is “reasonable,” which depends on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.  Generally, it means whether a reasonably prudent person would normally expect a place to be private.  Your bedroom, wallet, and locker are usually private, unless you share them with another person.  Public places are not usually private.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, such as the “plain sight” exception, which allows an officer to seize evidence if it is in plain sight.  For instance, an officer may seize a stolen car from your driveway, but not from your closed garage, unless he could plainly identify it as stolen property by looking through a garage window.

Another exception is the “search incident to arrest” exception, which allows an officer to search your person and the immediate vicinity around you when arrested.  Similarly, an officer may conduct a pat-down for weapons of any person he believes may be armed.

Gaining valid consent to a search is probably the most frequently used exception to the warrant requirement.  A person can voluntarily waive his Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and it only takes one qualified person’s consent to validate a search, even if the place to be searched is shared, such as a home. 

If you believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, be certain to write down everything you remember from the incident and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.  Criminal defense attorney Monty Yolles, founder of Yolles Law, is an experienced criminal law attorney who can help you fight for your rights in each step of your case.  Call Monty Yolles today at (301)670-0443 to discuss your case, or send an email inquiry to Monty@yolleslaw.com.

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