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Search & Seizure: What to Know

Although Americans are protected from illegal searches and seizures by the 4thAmendment, many are confused as to what this means, practically speaking. The following are some common questions regarding searches and seizures and the answers.

When are police "searching" during an investigation?
The court will determine this by asking first if the person whose home or car was being searched expected a degree of privacy. Secondly, they will ask if the expectation was reasonable. If the court determines the expectation of privacy to be legitimate, the investigation can be considered a search and any evidence discovered cannot be submitted to the court.

How private is my property?
Everything in your home or on your property can be considered private. Police wanting to investigate here will require a warrant unless they are attempting to keep suspects from destroying evidence. Otherwise, police can take photos of your home from outside and can eavesdrop on your conversations in order to obtain a warrant. If you allow police to search, on the other hand, you waive any right to privacy.

What is a warrant exactly?
Warrants are orders issued by judges giving permission for law enforcement to search a certain location and seize evidence. Warrants must be applied for before conducting a search. Police looking for a warrant need to convince the judge that probable evidence exists that a crime took place and evidence of the crime is likely to be found in the location.

What are police authorized to do with a warrant?
A warrant allows police to enter a premise without the owner's permission to search and obtain evidence. Police can search beyond the scope of the warrant to ensure their own safety and the safety of others, to prevent the destruction of evidence, or find more evidence-based on what is plainly visible.

Can a landlord or roommate give permission to search my property?
In general, those in charge of a property have the property to give such permission to police. Police can also search for any property they want if they feel the search is an emergency.

Can police search my car during a traffic stop?
Police do have the ability to search and frisk you if they have a reasonable suspicion you are armed in a traffic stop. Police can also pat you down for any contraband substances. Police can only search the passenger compartment of a car if either the driver is within reach of the compartment or the officer reasonably believes the vehicle has evidence of the offense of arrest.

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