The United States Constitution establishes limitations on the power that law enforcement officials have when searching people. Search and seizure laws help to protect the rights of individuals against being wrongfully incriminated. Here, the ENLawyers explain what you should know about search and seizure laws, probable cause, and the exclusionary rule.

What to know about Search and Seizure Laws

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution concerns the protection of individuals against wrongful search. The Amendment involves the basic right to privacy that is inherent to every United States Citizen. When law enforcement officers do not have probable cause to search someone or their property, they are in violation of this right. As such, search and seizure laws were developed to limit the power of police to make arrests, search property, and take possession of evidence without justification.

However, this does not mean that the Constitution forbids searching an individual or their property, nor does it mean that a police officer must have a warrant to do so. The Amendment permits searches and the procurement of contraband within reason. If police have probable cause that an individual committed a crime, or there is a situation that, in the interest of safety, requires a search of an individual or property without a warrant, they are permitted under the law to conduct a search as necessary.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a standard used to justify the search of someone’s person or property. The standard is assessed by considering whether there are enough facts to support that either a suspect or individual has committed a crime, or the property in question may provide evidence to a crime.

Though there is no definitive formula to establish what probable cause is, Judges and court officials assess whether probable cause exists when issuing warrants for arrests and searches. It is at the discretion of these officials to decide whether there is enough evidence, or objective reasoning, that an accusation is more true than it is false.

What is the exclusionary rule?

When an individual is wrongfully searched, the exclusionary rule protects them from having any evidence, obtained illegally, used against them for prosecution purposes. The rule was put into place in order to dissuade law enforcement officials from conducting illegal searches.

A judge has the ability, and the responsibility, to dismiss evidence when it has been collected through illegal means. This can apply to evidence that was procured indirectly as a result of an unlawful search or arrest, and not exclusively to that which was obtained from the act.

ENLawyers Bottom Line

It is important that you know your rights if you or your property are searched.  However, if you are illegally searched, that does not necessarily mean the case against you will be dismissed, as a prosecutor could have other incriminating evidence against you. If you believe your rights have been violated during a search or arrest, or you would like more information about search and seizure laws, contact the experienced criminal law experts at the Law Offices of Eldridge and Nachtman.