What makes a search illegal?

In Florida and across the country, you have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution; however, you cannot protect your rights if you don’t know what they are. What are police allowed to do at a traffic stop, for example? Can they enter your home without your permission? If you were caught with drugs, there’s a chance it was the result of an illegal search. We explain the Fourth Amendment here.

Your Fourth Amendment Rights

Added to the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect citizens from arbitrary and unwarranted searches and seizures of property by the government. It is the basis of modern laws regarding search warrants, wire-tapping, stop-and-frisk, etc. Specifically, the amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This means that police officers or federal agents must have a good reason to initiate a search and must have a warrant to do so.

What This Means When Police Are at Your Door

In order to enter your residence to conduct a search, a police officer or federal agent must meet one of the following standards:

  • Has a search warrant. A search warrant is a legal document issued by a magistrate or judge that authorizes police officers to search a premises. In order to obtain a warrant, the prosecutor must prove to the judge that it is likely that a crime has been committed or is being committed on the premises (probable cause).
     
  • Is able to justify a search without a warrant. In certain situations, police may enter and search a premises without a warrant. Some examples include being in hot pursuit of a suspect or believing someone’s life is in danger.
     
  • Has your consent to search. If you grant law enforcement permission to enter and search your home and they find something, it will be considered a legal search.

Car Searches Fall Under Less Restrictive Laws

The Fourth Amendment applies primarily to searches in your home. Law enforcement has more freedom when searching your car. As long as they have probable cause, they can search your car without a warrant, and it’s not hard for them to claim probable cause. It may be enough for an officer to claim he saw you swerve out of your lane or that he smelled marijuana in your car. However, it may be possible to argue that drugs found in a car were the result of an illegal search, depending on the specific facts of the case.

Clifton Law Office Will Leave No Stone Unturned

When you face drug charges, I will investigate every possible defense to the charges, including the possibility that evidence was obtained illegally. Contact me as soon as possible after your arrest so that I can help you every step of the way.