Imagine a New York police officer stopping you at random while you walk down the street and demanding you turn out your pockets. The officer had no apparent reason to suspect you were committing a crime. Did he have the legal right to search you? Or perhaps a cop stops you one night while you are driving through town and begins to search your vehicle. He takes your backpack and arrests you. Did he violate your rights by searching your car and taking your backpack. As with many legal questions, it depends.
In general, law enforcement officers have to abide by certain rules when engaging in search and seizure procedures. And, as in many situations, there are always exceptions to the rules. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your rights from illegal search and seizures. If you feel you have been the victim of a police officer's misconduct, it is important to understand your rights and options. A local Queens criminal defense attorney can review your case and determine if you were subjected to an illegal search and seizure.
Read further for common questions about your rights when the police search your physical person, your car, or your home.
When does an investigation turn into a search?
The court will usually ask two questions to determine if an investigation became a search. First, the court will ask if the person whose home or property underwent and investigation or search expected any privacy. Next, the court will ask if that person's expectation was reasonable. If the investigation turned into a search, and the answers to these two questions were yes, then the court may decide that the officers violated the individual's privacy.
How private is my private property?
Usually, the state considers any property that is inside your home or just located on your property to be private. This means that if the police have to enter your property to look at potential evidence for a court case, they have to obtain a search warrant first.
However, if the police suspect that a person is going to destroy evidence, they can lawfully search and seize property without a warrant. This is due to the need for the officers to take swift action. Keep in mind that while the police need a search warrant to enter the property, in most situations, they can take aerial photographs or eavesdrop on your conversations. The officers can then use this information to obtain a warrant. In addition, the officers also have to get a warrant if they intend to use high-tech equipment to conduct eavesdropping operations.
What is a search warrant?
A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge that allows the police to search a location or a person and to seize evidence of a criminal offense. In order to get a warrant, the police have to show that probable cause exists and that evidence of the crime will most likely be found at a particular location on an a specific individual.
The warrant grants the police the legal authority to enter your property without your permission. However, they are limited to the specification of the warrant. For example, if the order allows the officers to search your car for illegal drugs, then they have to limit the search to your vehicle. They cannot search your vehicle and then go search your home.
However, there are circumstances where the police can go beyond the scope of the warrant. They can expand their search in order to ensure their safety and the safety of other people.
If you think you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure, it is important to understand that you do have rights.