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.