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Understanding search and seizure

On Behalf of | Feb 29, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Defense

Search and seizure refer to the legal processes through which law enforcement officials can look for evidence and take property as part of criminal investigations. This balance between the police’s authority and the protection of individual rights is important.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution safeguards individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. This provision ensures that law enforcement must have a search warrant before conducting searches or seizures. If you find yourself in a position where law enforcement wants to search your belongings, it is important to know whether or not they can legally do so.

Probable cause

Probable cause serves as the foundation for obtaining search warrants. Police must show a judge that there is sufficient evidence to believe a search will yield relevant evidence related to a crime. This legal requirement checks authorities’ power, preventing arbitrary searches.

Exceptions to the warrant condition

Some exceptions permit law enforcement to conduct searches without a warrant. These include consent searches, where an individual willingly allows authorities to search. Searches incident to arrest, which permit searching an individual’s person and immediate surroundings during an arrest, are also exempt.

Exigent circumstances provide another exception, allowing cops to conduct searches without a warrant in urgent situations where obtaining one is impractical. These circumstances may include the risk of evidence destruction or the immediate threat of harm.

The scope of the search

The search scope must remain reasonable and limited even with a valid search warrant or under an exception. Law enforcement must focus on areas and items specified in the warrant or relevant to the circumstances that justified the search. Limitations like these ensure that the intrusion is proportionate to the situation.

Balancing power and protection

The balance between the power of the police and the protection they provide to individuals is delicate. It is impossible to build a case without the ability to search for evidence and seize property. Still, if the police can search and seize anything at any time, it would violate fundamental rights to privacy and property.