You’ve seen the crime shows, and you know that the police need a warrant to search your home. You may even know that the Fourth Amendment protects you against unlawful search and seizure.
But when an officer actually knocks on your door, will you know what to do? Do you know your constitutional rights? By the end of this article, you will.
Consent to Search
If the police show up at your door, do not give them permission to come inside and look around. By doing so, you’re waiving your Fourth Amendment rights and allowing the police to perform a search without a warrant and without probable cause.
You may be wondering if the police will tell you your rights as they do with arrests. But the answer is no: the police do not need to inform you about your right to refuse consent. Be clear when you talk to the police. Say the following: “I do not give consent for you to search my property.”
If they keep talking to you, respond to every question by refusing your consent.
If you accidentally let the police begin searching your home, you can still revoke consent. Just say the words, “I revoke my consent to this search,” and the police are required by law to stop.
If you refuse consent to search your house, the police must establish probable cause to get a search warrant, except for extreme situations.
Just what does probable cause mean, though? It depends on the situation. Many law dictionaries define probable cause as enough evidence that a prudent person would think something is true.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to determine whether the evidence shows probable cause—the judge who issues the warrant does. However, if you are accused of a crime, talk with your lawyer about whether there was sufficient cause for a warrant.
In the United States, search warrants must be both specific and reasonable, and the police must stay within those limits. For instance, if a search warrant allows officers to search your bedroom, they may not legally search your kitchen unless they get another warrant.
Carefully review the search warrant when the police present it, and keep an eye on them as they search your house. If they wander into areas of your house not outlined in the warrant, remind them again that you do not give them consent to search other parts of your house. Otherwise, you risk forfeiting some of your rights.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
Though it’s crucial to know your rights, it’s just as important to know the limits to your rights. Though the police need a warrant to search your house, you can’t prevent searches in areas that aren’t your private property. The police can always search public restrooms, jail cells, and garbage set out for collection in a public place.
Also remember that you may not have control over some things the police can search. If your workplace gave you a cell phone to use for business, the company controls whether the police can search it. The same thing goes for rented property—your landlord decides if the police need a search warrant.
If the police discover evidence that they can easily find without a search, they’re allowed to use it in court. For example, if the police see illegal drugs on your passenger seat when they pull you over for speeding, they can use those drugs as evidence later. Be careful where you place your personal items. To best protect your privacy, stow all your items in the trunk or glove box when you drive.
In case the police do find enough evidence to arrest you, talk to your lawyer immediately about the search process. If the police searched your property illegally, you can have the evidence dismissed from court.
When the police knock on your door, tell them they need to get a warrant if they want to search your home. Then call your lawyer and discuss your strategy. You can’t be too careful about protecting your Fourth Amendment rights. For aggressive, experienced representation call Jennifer Meksraitis at 813-600-3197, or use the contact form.