Under what circumstances can a police search of your car or house legally take place? Learn here.
The fourth amendment explains the right we have “to secure in (our) persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures”. We have the right to deny the request for a search and seize in all instances except for situations where prompt action by police is necessary.
Why would they want to search my car?
Police search cars for many reasons that include (but are not limited to) searching for:
Police search cars with the intent to protect themselves and citizens. When a citizen is pulled over for a traffic violation, the police officer may ask to search the citizen’s car. If the citizen is asked by a police officer to search their car, the police officer may search the car only if:
The citizen gives the police officer consent;
The police officer has probable cause;
The officer believes they need to search the vehicle for their own protection; or
You have been arrested and searching your vehicle is related to the reason for the arrest.
Police officers search cars with the intent to help you and keep other citizens safe. If someone is pulled over for speeding and the officer smells alcohol, they may ask the citizen to search the car. If the citizen gives consent, the officer may search the car.
When granted, a search warrant allows for an officer searches the specific areas and items described in the warrant. The process of being granted a warrant involves one or more officers convincing a judge that there is probable cause for criminal activity in a certain area. If the judge is convinced, the warrant is granted. In some situations requiring immediate action, an officer may search and/or seize without a warrant as long as there is a reasonable cause and demands prompt action by a police officer.
If a police officer has a search warrant for your car, they may search the car with or without your consent. There are certain situations where the police officer does not need a search warrant to search your property. There is no specific number or limit on the kinds or amounts of situations, e.g. stopping someone from destroying criminal evidence that could be used in a court trial. If the police interpret a situation and conclude that searching property is absolutely necessary, they may search and seize.
Why would they want to search my house?
A police officer or team of police officers would search someone’s house if they have reason to believe that some form of criminal activity or criminal evidence is inside the home or on the property. The question to ask is ‘is there a probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed?’; if the judge does not have any doubts, then the judge will more than likely sign the warrant. A judge can take as much time they need to understand the reasoning for the search warrant, but if there is one or more beliefs that ‘yes’, a crime has been committed then the judge won’t hesitate in signing the warrant.
For example, if the police have reason to believe that the person living at a certain address has committed criminal activity they could obtain a search warrant for the criminal’s address. The warrant usually has language specifying the police or authorities have the authority to search for certain items or people. In other words, if the police can convince a judge that they have reason to believe there is criminal evidence at a specific place, they can obtain a warrant and that grants them the ability to legally search the property.
When the warrant is issued to the police, the person of residence is requested not to be present when the warrant is issued to police (whether or not they are related to the evidence or the crime). Because the resident is not present and therefore can challenge the warrant after the search.
The language of the search warrant is very specific. More often than not, the warrant has language that obliges the authorities to search in specific areas or for specific items; they can only search those areas.
Illegal Search and Seizure
The first question asked usually follows something like ‘is searching the citizen or their property violating their privacy?’; if the answer is yes and the citizen denies the search request, then the officer needs to be granted a search warrant.
There are some instances where the officer searches a car or property and does not have a probable cause that requires immediate action – this is illegal search and seizure. There are plenty of other instances, but to name a few would be using hi-tech to eavesdrop on a conversation to be granted a warrant. What a police officer could do is reasonably listen to a conversation to get enough information to obtain the warrant.