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What Is an Arrest Search?

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What Is an Arrest Search?

An arrest search is a search conducted by the police when they are in the process of arresting a suspect for a crime. This is sometimes called a "search incident to a lawful arrest." Usually, the purpose of an arrest search is to:

  • Ensure that the suspect is relieved of any weapons or dangerous items that might harm the police
  • Discover any evidence of criminal activity that is related to the arrest

So, for instance, the police may search a person who was arrested for robbery. If they find a weapon or stolen items on the person, those items may be used as evidence in an upcoming criminal trial. Unreasonable police searches are prohibited by state and federal criminal laws.

Do Police Need a Search Warrant for an Arrest Search?

Generally speaking, police actually don’t need a search warrant to conduct an arrest search. However, they do need to ensure that the arrest is being conducted properly. This means that they should have an arrest warrant for the person, or they should have probable cause to make the arrest. This is a relatively high degree of suspicion that the person is connected with a crime (a higher suspicion than reasonable suspicion).

What Is the Scope of an Arrest Search?

In most jurisdictions, the scope of an arrest search is limited in terms of what the police can search. In most cases, the police are only allowed to search the area immediately surrounding the arrested person. This is usually indicate as an "arms span" around the person. Also, the search is often limited to any weapons that the person might have used to commit a crime, or any drugs, paraphernalia, or other implements connected with the arrest at hand.

Evidence that is wrongfully obtained without a warrant or without being connected to a valid arrest can’t be entered in a trial. Thus, police need to ensure that they aren’t violating a defendant’s rights when they are conducting a search incident to a lawful arrest.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Criminal Matters?

Arrest searches and other criminal matters generally require the assistance and representation of a qualified lawyer. It’s in your best interests to hire and work closely with an experienced criminal attorney in your area. Your lawyer will be able to review the facts of the case in order to determine whether a search was conducted properly. Also, your lawyer can help determine if there are any defenses that apply to your case.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-20-2014 04:38 PM PST

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