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Illegal Searches

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What Is an Illegal Search?

The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. An unreasonable search depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Any search of a person, home, or car without probable cause or a valid search warrant is an invasion of privacy and an unreasonable search. There are many exceptions to this general rule and consenting to the search always makes the search a legal search.

Searches of the Home 

The police generally cannot search a home unless they have a search warrant. The warrant must fully describe and specifically list what the police are looking for and where they are likely to find it. The police do not need a warrant to search a home if they have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is occurring.

Searches of the Car

The police may generally search a car without a warrant if the car has been validly pulled over and there is probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence or illegal goods. If the police have probable cause, then the entire car and all of the contents in the car can be searched. Generally the police cannot search the car for a minor traffic infraction, but the driver and passengers may be searched for weapons as long as there is reasonable suspicion they are involved in criminal activity beyond the traffic infraction.

Searches of the Person 

The police generally can search a person without a warrant if there is probable cause or there is a reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity.

Searches of Arrested Persons 

Assuming that the police have probable cause to make an arrest, a search of the person and the person's surroundings following the arrest is valid and any evidence uncovered is admissible at trial.

The Consequences of an Illegal Search

Where a search is performed illegally, a lawyer may be able to suppress the evidence obtained during the illegal search so that it cannot be used at trial.

If You Believe You have Been Searched Illegally

There are numerous exceptions to illegal searches and much depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Consult with a criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses, and the complicated legal system.

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 07-10-2014 02:53 PM PDT

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