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When can police officers lawfully conduct a search?

On Behalf of | Apr 10, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Police officers often need to conduct searches to gather evidence of suspected wrongdoing. In order to do this, they must ensure they comply with applicable laws. If they don’t, any evidence seized could be inadmissible in court.

The United States Constitution forbids unlawful searches and seizures. For the most part, searches and seizures require a warrant, but there are specific circumstances in which one isn’t needed. Understanding these distinctions is important for all Americans, as anyone could be subject to a search or seizure – perhaps lawful, perhaps not – without warning.

When is a warrant required?

A warrant is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that outlines when, where and for what a search can be conducted. In order to obtain the warrant, officers must present probable cause that shows there’s a valid reason to believe that the search warrant they’re asking for will produce the evidence they need.

When don’t police need a warrant?

There are several situations where the police are permitted to conduct searches without a warrant. These situations have very strict terms that must be met in order for a search to qualify for the exception from needing a warrant.

One of the most common is during an arrest. If an individual is being lawfully arrested, the police have the right to search the person and the immediate area around them for weapons, stolen items or evidence of crime. This search is intended to protect the safety of the arresting officers and prevent the destruction of evidence.

Another scenario where a warrant isn’t required is if an individual gives consent to the search. Consent must be voluntary and not coerced. If consent is given, the police can search the individual’s property without a warrant.

Vehicle searches are another area with specific rules. The police can search a vehicle if they have probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime. Due to the mobile nature of vehicles, obtaining a warrant beforehand isn’t always feasible.

Evidence that’s obtained without a warrant may be closely scrutinized by the defense. Being able to have evidence suppressed because it’s obtained illegally is often a consequential defense strategy. Defendants should seek legal representation that can assist them with determining how to proceed in the wake of criminal charges impacted by any kind of search or seizure.