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Police Search and Seizure Limitations

Posted in Criminal Defense on June 26, 2019

A police officer does not have free rein to search a person or property, or seize any alleged evidence or contraband, without probable cause or a warrant to do so. This is the basic right every American citizen has under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. If a police officer breaches this right during a search or arrest, the courts generally will not rule any evidence the officer gained admissible in a court of law.

What Does the Fourth Amendment Say?

The Fourth Amendment is an inherent right every citizen has in the United States, under the language of the U.S. Constitution. It states that each individual has the right to be secure against unlawful searches and seizures within his or her own home, person, papers, and effects. This means a police officer cannot violate this security, or issue any warrants to conduct a search or seizure without probable cause supported by oath or affirmation.

Infringing upon the individual’s constitutional rights will mean the officer forfeits the ability to use any property or information obtained from the illegal search or seizure against the defendant during a criminal trial. The defense can use the argument that the officer broken the Fourth Amendment rights to conduct the search, rendering the evidence obtained inadmissible in court. This could lead to the prosecution not having sufficient evidence to uphold a case against the defendant.

If you have any questions regarding your fourth amendment rights, contact a Riverside criminal defense attorney for a free consultation.

What Police Can and Cannot Do

The search and seizure limitations the Fourth Amendment places on police and law enforcement officers give citizens freedom from government intrusions into their lives. However, even the protections of the Fourth Amendment have limits. Knowing what police can and cannot do during a search or arrest can help you protect yourself as a resident in California.

  • Police can conduct reasonable searches: This means the agent must have adequate reason to believe that he or she will find evidence of a crime by conducting the search (probable cause).
  • Police cannot conduct unreasonable searches: If the officer has no valid reason to suspect the individual of a crime, or to suspect that he/she will find evidence of a crime, the officer cannot engage in the search.
  • Police can conduct searches with warrants: An officer can conduct a search if he or she has a court-supported warrant to do so. However, the warrant must give specific parameters of where the officer can search and what he or she can seize.
  • Police cannot stop and frisk you: An officer cannot conduct a stop of any kind and then frisk your person, unless that officer is acting under reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a crime, or that you may be armed and dangerous.
  • Police can search if you give permission: An officer may ask you for permission to enter your home or vehicle to conduct a search. If you grant this permission, you give the officer the right to do so.

A police officer will not need a warrant to search anywhere – only places where the individual may have a reasonable expectation of privacy. An officer can search through trash left on the curb, for example, as a reasonable person would not expect privacy in this area. If the defense can prove that an officer conducted an unreasonable search or seizure, the courts may toss out any gathered evidence.