How the Fourth Amendment limits police searches
The Constitution creates basic rights, and the Bill of Rights created 10 important additions to that original document. Each of the 10 Amendments included in the Bill of Rights extent important protections to those living in the United States.
Some of the most powerful amendments limit the power of the government when it comes to law enforcement efforts. The Fourth Amendment specifically protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures of their property.
What does that mean for someone facing a criminal investigation?
Police have to have a justification for any search
There are different rules that apply to different kinds of searches. However, there are certain standards that apply across the board. For an officer to conduct a search of your personal property, they typically need either probable cause or a warrant.
Probable cause to search a vehicle might include that the interior smells like drugs or that they see an illegal weapon visible in the backseat. Probable cause for the search of home might include sounds that imply a violent act occurring inside or the hot pursuit of a suspect from a nearby felony crime scene.
In scenarios where police officers believe there is evidence of a crime but no immediate crime in progress, they can go to a judge and obtain a search warrant. Outside of those two scenarios, police can only search if you give them permission.
The police want you to give up your rights
When a police officer asks you if they can search your house or go through your vehicle, they are asking because they probably realize that they don’t have grounds to search otherwise. Once you give them permission to step inside your house or start going through your vehicle, they can keep searching for as long as they want if they find something that implies criminal activity.
The only way to protect yourself from this kind of law enforcement misconduct is to know your rights or to stand up for yourself after a violation. You can potentially keep evidence obtained in an illegal search out of the courts, but doing so will require that you show the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights while gathering that evidence.
Educating yourself about how the law protects you will make it easier for you to defend against criminal charges.