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When Do Officers Have a Right to Search Your Property Without a Warrant?

Posted in General FAQ'S on April 25, 2016

When a police officer is questioning you, things can easily get out of hand if you’re uninformed about your rights and don’t understand search laws in California. To protect your rights, you must be knowledgeable about the scope of the law in different situations, so you can better navigate a search situation without getting yourself into further trouble.

There are many types of property, both physical and intellectual, that you want to keep protected from prying eyes – including the eyes of the government. Learning your rights for each type of situation will help you protect your property and obey the law.

Car and Home

When it comes to your vehicle, police officers do not need a warrant to conduct a search if they have probable cause to do so. It’s important to note, however, that officers conduct most car searches by tricking or intimidating the owner into giving consent, not from probable cause. By receiving your consent, the officer bypasses the need for a warrant.

If the police come knocking at your door without a search warrant, you not only have the right to refuse their search under the Fourth Amendment, but anything seized during an illegal search cannot be used in a court of law. However, there are exceptions to needing a warrant:

  • If consent is given.
  • If evidence of a crime is in plain view.
  • If you are being arrested in your home.
  • If there is an emergency.

In any house search situation, ask why the officers are there and make it clear that you are not consenting to the search. Never use force to refuse a search of your property – this will only land you in jail.

Digital Devices

Your phone, computer, and other devices hold a great store of personal information about you and your family. No one wants sensitive data exposed unnecessarily. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches, extending to your digital devices. It’s important to understand how your devices are protected under law, in the event you’re subjected to a search.

If you say “yes” when an officer asks for your permission to conduct a search, you thereby forfeit any right to object to the search, whether they have a warrant or not. This is also the case if your roommate/spouse/relative consents to a search of your property. If you don’t give your consent, police are only legally allowed to search your device if they have a warrant or under limited circumstances.

Student Property

If you’re a student at any school, any property on school grounds is public domain and can be searched at any time without a warrant if there’s reasonable suspicion. The way your school performs the search should be reasonable according to your age and what they are searching for.

School-wide searches may occur in the event of a safety concern that involves the entire campus. On these occasions, you cannot refuse a search of your locker, backpack, or person as long as the search is truly random and not focused on you unfairly.

A random search cannot be used to disguise targeting a single individual, and if you feel this is the case, you have the right to refuse the search. For more information about searches of students in California, read about it here.

If you’ve been the victim of an improper or illegal search, protection could be available. Contact Graham Donath Law Offices today to discuss your rights and see if your case will stand up in a court of law. We know the intricate search warrant laws in California, and are here to defend your rights.