People need to know their basic civil rights before they have an interaction with law enforcement professionals. After all, you cannot assert your rights when you do not know them. One of the most valuable protections for those facing a criminal investigation is the Fourth Amendment.
This crucial inclusion in the Bill of Rights protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures of your property. For police officers to use what they find in a search in criminal court, they will typically need to abide by restrictions on when and how they search.
What are the three most common reasons that officers can search private property?
They have a warrant
When there is evidence of misconduct or probable cause to believe there is evidence on private property, a judge can sign a warrant giving law enforcement professionals access to private property. Warrants typically have a limited scope, which is one reason why reviewing the paperwork is important. You also want to check a warrant before giving officers access to your home or vehicle to ensure the information is correct and that a judge actually signed it.
They have probable cause
If an officer smells, hears or sees something that suggests a crime in progress, they can enter a property and search without a warrant. What they notice about your home when they knock on your front door could give them probable cause. A hot pursuit of a suspect from another location can also provide probable cause for entry into someone’s home or vehicle.
They have permission
Frequently, those interacting with law enforcement officers make mistakes and waive their rights. Police officers will casually ask if they can check your back seat or come inside to talk with you. The real goal is convincing you to wave your rights and then finding something that they can use to arrest and prosecute you. If an officer has to ask for permission, they likely have neither the probable cause nor the warrant they technically require to search the property without your consent.
Learning about the limitations on property searches and your civil rights will help you better handle interactions with law enforcement or prepare a basis for your criminal defense.