The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives all Americans protections against unwarranted search and seizure of their person and their property. At the core of this Amendment is the belief that innocent people should not have to fear for their privacy in personal spaces like their homes.
However, sometimes law enforcement officials must search a person’s property for evidence of a crime. To balance the people’s interest in privacy and the police’s duty to investigate crimes, courts have set certain requirements that must be met for police to conduct a search of a person’s home.
Ideally, police would secure a warrant. Judges grant warrants when officers can show that there is probable cause that someone in the house should be arrested or that the property holds evidence of a crime. A warrant will lay out what police may search for and where they may search for it.
Absent a warrant, police may search in a few other circumstances. If they see something left out in plain view without entering your property, that may justify a more extensive search. Or if you are arrested at home, police may search the property for evidence, weapons or accomplices. They may also search if they are in hot pursuit of a suspect or feel that someone’s life may be in danger. But absent those criteria, they may only search with permission and you are free to politely decline if an officer asks to enter your home.
If police conduct an illegal search that results in finding evidence of a crime, that evidence may be thrown out of any proceedings that follow. This protection exists to discourage law enforcement officials from violating privacy rights and helps ensure that criminal suspects get a fair trial.
If you feel that your fundamental rights may have been violated by a law enforcement official, consider reaching out to someone who can help. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you ensure that your rights are protected in any subsequent proceedings, working with you to build a defense and fight any charges.
Source: The FindLaw Blotter, “When Can Police Search Your Home?” Deanne Katz, Jan. 22, 2013
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