If you have been approached by a police officer who asked for your permission to search your vehicle or otherwise examine your private property, you may have wondered if compliance was mandatory. A police officer must abide by very specific rules in order to search a private location such as a home or car. If you believe that an officer did not follow the proper rules that protect your civil rights against unlawful search and seizure, it is important that you reach out to a legal professional to see if you have a case.
What The Bill Of Rights Says About Searches And Seizures
A civilian’s protection from unlawful searches and seizures is granted by the Fourth Amendment, which was written into the Bill of Rights. This piece of the Constitution 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.”
All of these minute details are critical to understanding what makes a police’s search or seizure unlawful and whether you have been a victim. Keep in mind, however, that this amendment does not mean that you cannot be searched at all, only that it must be done in very specific ways.
What Constitutes A Search?
A search occurs when a public employee—such as a police officer—accesses something private, such as a home or a car. What makes a location private depends on two factors: the belief that something is private and the realistic expectation that privacy is expected. In the latter case, believing that something is private arises by it being out of the public eye; this includes, for example, items inside a home or car.
A search can be conducted on property that is not realistically expected to be private, such as items sitting unattended in your front yard. However, items that are within your area of privacy require additional steps by the police in order to search them.
What Does Seizure Mean?
Seizure generally refers to the act of an officer taking something. However, it is important to know that seizure also affects people, and a person who is arrested or detained without cause may also be a victim of unlawful seizure.
When Is Search And Seizure Unlawful?
In order for a search or seizure to be lawful, one (or more) of four specific things must occur. If you consent to a search, it becomes lawful. Additionally, if the police have reasonable suspicion that you are in the process of participating in a criminal activity, they may conduct a search or seizure. This can be bolstered by police testimony that exigent circumstances were present. Of course, if the police have secured a warrant, they may search according to the warrant’s stipulations.
Thus, an officer who searches you without a warrant and without probable cause or exigent circumstances leading them to believe that you must be urgently searched is not permitted to conduct the search on you or your private property if you do not provide consent. However, if you have already been arrested, an officer may search your person and, to a limited extent, your vehicle. The same may occur if your vehicle has been impounded.
What About Exigent Circumstances?
One of the potential means of making a search or seizure legal is the presence of exigent circumstances. The term “exigent” means “pressing” or “urgent,” and it refers to circumstances in which an officer is led to believe that they must take action immediately in order to prevent a negative outcome.
If an officer believes that you are currently in the process of removing or destroying evidence in such a way that failure to act at that exact moment will cause the evidence to be lost, they may initiate a search or seizure based on this reasonable belief. Overcoming an officer’s claim of exigent circumstances is one of the most challenging aspects of fighting against an unlawful search and seizure in court.
Work With A Civil Rights Lawyer For Your Case
If you believe that you may have been a victim of unlawful search and seizure, it is important that you reach out to a legal professional as soon as possible after the incident. The civil rights attorneys at The Brown Firm would be happy to help you fight an officer’s claim of exigent circumstances where applicable and uphold your Fourth Amendment rights. Reach out to schedule a consultation with an attorney today.