The U.S. Constitution protects you from unlawful searches and seizures during law enforcement activities. This constitutional right prevents police officers from conducting searches of your person or property without probable cause.
The search and seizure rules come with limits regarding what police can and cannot do. Understanding these parameters can help you protect your rights during an investigation or arrest.
The police can search with probable cause
Under the Fourth Amendment, the only time an officer can conduct a search without a warrant is if that officer has probable cause to do so. The officer must operate under a reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime or that you are armed and dangerous. The police cannot search your vehicle unless they have a reason to believe they will find evidence of a crime.
The police cannot use evidence obtained unlawfully
The exclusionary rule restricts the use of any evidence police gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If the police infringed upon a suspect’s rights against unlawful search and seizure, the defense can typically convince the courts to rule this evidence inadmissible in court. Cases involving unlawfully obtained items may institute the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine to argue the inadmissibility of the evidence in question.
The police can stop and frisk you with probable cause
It is lawful for a police officer to stop you in the streets and frisk your person if he or she has reasonable cause to believe you were involved in a crime or that you have a weapon on your person and pose a threat. Probable cause could involve seeing you commit a crime or having description of a potential suspect that matches you.
The police cannot search outside of a warrant
If the police do obtain a search warrant for your property, the warrant must contain details as to what the police may search and/or seize. The officer must obey the limits of the warrant when conducting a search. The only time an officer may act outside the warrant’s specific parameters is if he or she sees evidence of a suspected crime sitting in plain view.