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When Are the Police Allowed to Search My Belongings?

The fourth amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches of personal property by police. The word reasonable, however, means this search is open to some interpretation. The fourth amendment does make clear that police need written permission to search a person’s belongings if they are investigating him or her of a crime.

If the person does not understand this right and consents to the search, then it is a legal search and the police can use any evidence they find. Likewise, if the police have a reasonable suspicion that a search will provide evidence of a crime, depending on that suspicion, they may be able to execute a search without a warrant.

Do you think that you were a victim of an illegal search? If so, speak to a Scottsdale illegal search and seizure attorney at the Hallam Law Group.

What is a Search Warrant?

A warrant is an order that a judge signs authorizing the police to search a location and gather materials from at location at a specific time. The warrant must include a location, time, and what evidence police hope to find. Police must prove they have probable cause – a good reason – that someone has committed a crime and that evidence of the crime exists in the location that the police want to search.

What Must Be in Place for Police to Conduct a Search Legally?

In the case of a planned search with a warrant, several important documents must be in place for the search to be legal.

  • Probable cause (an adequate reason) must be present.
  • The state of Arizona must issue the warrant.
  • A judge or magistrate must sign the warrant.
  • The creator of the warrant must direct it to an officer.
  • It must specify the person or place that police are going to search.
  • It must include a specific time and date police will carry it out.
  • It must specify a limit of certain items or areas police will search.

In an investigation that is moving at a reasonable pace, there is often time to get these items in order. If law enforcement officers have these items, their search is legally binding, and the suspect must let them search. With a search warrant, it is acceptable for law enforcement to break-and-enter if no one comes to the door and permits the search of the home.

Exceptions to Search Warrant Requirements

Some scenarios allow law enforcement officers to search persons, items, or places without the search warrant. However, to do so, they must have proof of why it was necessary to search immediately.

  • Law enforcement can search on the spot if it is incidental to making an arrest.
  • Law enforcement can search on the spot if the evidence would quickly be lost or destroyed if the search did not occur.
  • Law enforcement can search on the spot if the suspect verbally consents.
  • Law enforcement can search on the spot if waiting for an impending search warrant would somehow put the officers in imminent danger.

Invalid Searches

Searches are invalid if the police carry them out without a warrant and the officers cannot provide a valid reason why they performed the search. If a search is invalid, then any evidence the police find will be inadmissible in court.