My wife has a distrust of police officers that stems from an incident that
happened when she was in high school. Driving home from school one day,
police officers pulled her over, searched her and her vehicle for no reason.
They told her afterwards that a classmate of hers was a drug dealer, and
they were protecting her. No matter what their true intentions were, her
rights were violated, and she was illegally searched. Had she understood
her constitutional rights, she could have stopped them.
There are two separate ways a police officer can search you or your property.
One is with a search warrant, the other is without. Understanding your
rights is the best way to protect yourself if you ever find yourself being
searched by law enforcement.
The first thing to remember is that you should never resist a search with
force. This is a battle you will never win, and most of the time you will
get charged with another crime. Your constitutional rights involving search
and seizure were made to fight with your attorney in a courtroom, not
in your car or home.
Two common ways you can be searched without a search warrant, is if you
either consent or are placed under arrest. If you consent, the police
may search you. The best way to protect yourself is to never consent to
a search. Simply tell the officer who is conducting the search that you
do not consent. Under the law, once you consent, everything found is fair
game and can be used against you.
If you have the unfortunate experience of being placed under arrest, the
officers may conduct a limited search of the immediate area where you
are arrested without a search warrant. In most cases involving search
and seizure, “reasonableness” of the search is the legal test
without a search warrant. It doesn’t change whether you are in a
vehicle or a house. They may seize anything they believe would be evidence
of a crime if it is in plain view, or part of the crime. In a home, however,
they may also be allowed to search for other people, if they believe they
may be accomplices.
If you are placed under arrest while in your car, your automobile may also
be impounded. Police officers are allowed to do an “inventory”
search if there is no qualified licensed driver to take your car. If an
officer is about to impound your car, ask the officer to let you have
a relative or friend come and get it.
If police officers arrive at your premises armed with a search warrant,
they may search only that area or portion authorized in the warrant itself.
You are entitled to have a copy of the search warrant left with you and
served on you if you are present. Before entering, however, they are required
to knock and announce their presence. If they break into your home without
first knocking and announcing, you may have a basis to suppress the results
of the search.
To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement had to convince a judge that
they have “probable cause” to believe they will find specific
evidence in your house. Sometimes, even after a warrant has been obtained
and the search has taken place, it may be determined that law enforcement
did not, in fact have sufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
In these types of cases, it is possible to have the evidence seized from
the search suppressed.
The laws of search and seizure are very complicated and will often depend
on the facts and circumstances in each particular case. Had my wife understood
her constitutional rights back then, she would have been able to handle
the situation better. If you believe you have your constitutional rights
violated and have been illegally searched, consult an Orlando attorney
about your case.