WHEN CAN POLICE SEARCH YOUR PROPERTY?
By Jonathan Blecher on March 22, 2023
We’ve all seen it on crime shows. An officer goes to search someone’s home or vehicle, the suspects scoffs and says, “You can’t do that!” and then the officer proudly flashes a warrant and proceeds with the search. Or, the officer wants to carry out a search, the suspect smugly says “Got a warrant?” and then the officer scowls, forced to walk away until he or she can return with that piece of paper. In reality, it’s not that cut-and-dried. While an officer is generally required to obtain a search warrant before searching a suspect’s property, there are many exceptions to this rule. In order to properly protect your rights, it is important that you fully understand how search warrants work and what officers’ liberties and limitations are with these warrants.
First, let’s talk about what a search warrant is. When an officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect has engaged in criminal activity and that a search of that person’s property will produce evidence of that activity, the officer can seek a search warrant from the court. If the officer is able to convince the judge of the probable cause, the search warrant will be granted. The officer will have to limit his or her search to the location, date and time (or time range) that is listed on the warrant. For example, if the search warrant is for a suspect’s backyard, the officer cannot search the person’s home as well (unless one of the exceptions applies). The officer will also be limited to what he or she can search for. For instance, if the search warrant is for weapons, the officer cannot also start carrying out a drug search. The officer would only be able to lawfully seize illegal drugs if he or she found the drugs through the reasonable course of the weapons search, or if the drugs were out in the open.
Here are a few of the many exceptions that may allow an officer to search or seize your property without a search warrant:
- The contraband is in plain view from an area where the officer has a right to be (such as when a gun can be seen through a vehicle window, or when marijuana plants can be seen in a backyard from the street or alleyway, or from a helicopter flying above).
- The search is conducted incident to an arrest.
- The officer needs to enter or search a property in an emergency situation, and public safety or the need to avoid the immediate loss of key evidence outweighs the absence of a search warrant in that moment (such as when an officer hears cries for help coming out of a home, or when the officer finds contraband while tending to an injured motorist). This is the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.
- An officer lawfully stops a vehicle and there is probable cause that a vehicle contains contraband.
- The suspect willingly consents to the search (even if the officer doesn’t have a required search warrant).
If an officer carries out an illegal search or seizure of property, there is a good chance that the court will bar the evidence from being used in court. This often leads to charges getting dismissed or greater likelihood of a “not guilty” verdict. If you have any reason to suspect that your Constitutional rights were violated in the search or seizure process, take action now by giving my firm a call! As a Miami DUI attorney who has more than 40 years of experience, I can provide you with excellent defense. I handle DUI cases, as well as other types of criminal cases. Contact Jonathan Blecher, P.A. and get high-quality defense!