Search and Seizure Laws

Search and Seizure Laws

The United States Constitution guarantees the right of its citizens to be free from unlawful or unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement personnel.  This right is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.  Basically, this means that police officers must have a good reason to search you or your property, seize your belongings, or arrest you.

Probable Cause

The legal term “probable cause” simply means that there are identifiable facts or circumstances that justify a search or seizure of a person, place, or thing. In other words, there must be a good reason to believe that a person is committing, or has committed, a crime.  There could also be a good reason to believe that evidence of a crime can be found in a particular place. With probable cause, a police officer is authorized to conduct a search and seize evidence of a crime, or make an arrest, without a warrant.  This is applicable in situations where there are “exigent” or emergency circumstances that make getting a warrant unfeasible.

An example of probable cause

Consider the following scenario.  During an investigation, police officers gather evidence that a suspect is selling illegal drugs from his home. The officers can ask a judge to issue a search warrant for that home.  The search warrant could also give the officers the authority to arrest the suspect.  If the judge agrees that there is sufficient evidence of probable cause to issue the warrant(s).  However, with sufficient probable cause, the officers may be justified to enter the home, search it, seize any drugs and arrest the suspect, all without that warrant.

The general rules requires a warrant

The general rule is that law enforcement officers are required to get a warrant before searches and seizures can be conducted. It is this requirement that allows the Fourth Amendment to work.  The checks and balances of obtaining a warrant ensures that the search and seizure will be reasonable.  If, on the other hand, a warrantless search and seizure is conducted, the police must prove that a warrant was needed or that there was no time to get one.

If you have questions regarding drug charges, or any other criminal defense matters, contact Ketcham Law by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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