Unreasonable Searches by the Police

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What Is An Unreasonable Search?

The Constitution provides a certain amount of protection to ensure privacy. As such, police cannot search a home without a court order or a probable cause. However, this rule is subject to certain exceptions.

Don't the Police Have to Knock Before They Enter My House?

Up until recently, a police officer had to knock and announce his or her presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before forcibly entering a home when serving a search warrant.  In June of 2006, the Supreme Court of the United States overruled this common law "knock and announce" rule.  With this ruling, the Court now allows police officers to forcibly enter a home and conduct a search without announcing their presence or waiting for any period of time as long as they have a warrant.

This ruling, however, only applies to the federal government and federal crimes. State courts are still free exclude evidence based upon the “knock and announce” laws of their respective state legislatures.

Doesn't the Constitution Protect Me From Unreasonable Searches?

Generally the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches by the police.  However, a Supreme Court ruling in June 2006 makes unannounced searches reasonable under the Fourth.  While unannounced searches conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant are constitutional, the Fourth Amendment still protects you from unreasonable searches in many other ways.

Can Evidence Found During Unannounced Searches be Used Against Me at Trial?

Yes.  This ruling prevents you from invoking the exclusionary rule which prohibits evidence found in during an unconstitutional search from being used at trial.  Because an unannounced search done pursuant to a valid search warrant is now constitutional, evidence found may be presented and used against you.

However, you should know that knock and announce rules may vary from state to state.  A recent controlling ruling applies mainly to searches conducted by the Federal government.  States are free to impose the exclusionary rule for state searches if they decide to do so.  Check with a lawyer regarding your state’s knock and announce laws.

Do I Have Any Rights or Remedies if The Police Forcibly Enter My Home and Conduct A Search Unannounced?

Yes.  While the Supreme Court has declared that the exclusionary rule may not be invoked to suppress evidence, they do allow you to sue the police under a civil rights or due process claim.  Suing the police, however, will not be a defense against the evidence seized during the search.

Additionally, the Fourth Amendment protects you from any other part of the search that may have been conducted illegally.  See illegal searches.

Can The Police Search My Home Without A Warrant?

Sometimes; there are certain conditions where police can enter a residence without a warrant:

When Do The Police Have To Present The Warrant?

Warrants are for the purposes of legal record-keeping and federal law does not require that police present the warrant. State laws may differ. Police with a search warrant do not need consent, but if they ask for consent, you do not have to give it to them. It is illegal to resist or prevent the police from executing a warrant.

If the police conducted a search without your permission and you suspect they do not have a warrant, check with the courts and/or police station afterwards for the warrant. If it turns out the officers lied, you can have any evidence excluded from trial and/or bringing a lawsuit. Remember that resisting the police before the search is not only illegal, but dangerous for all involved. Remedies for unreasonable police activity should be sought after the search is over.

Do I Need a Lawyer if The Police Conduct an Unannounced Search of My Home?

Yes.  If the police conduct an unannounced search of your home based on a valid search warrant, you will likely need a criminal defense attorney to defend you from any charges that may stem from the search.  A defense attorney can also help you seek to suppress evidence if you feel that any other part of the search violated your Fourth Amendment rights.  Your attorney will also be able to help you sue the police if you feel that your civil rights were violated.

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Last Modified: 06-21-2012 11:50 AM PDT

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