If you recently had your backpack, purse or another personal belonging searched by police, you may be wondering what your rights are and if you could have done anything differently. Knowing your rights is an important step to regaining control of your life. Here is what you need to know.
The U.S. Constitution guards against unreasonable searches and seizures
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by police officers and other government officers. To search your personal belongings, as well as your home or vehicle, the police will need to obtain a search warrant in most cases. If an officer asks or attempts to search your bag, you can ask if they have a warrant and decline access if they do not.
Are there exceptions to this rule?
There are a few exceptions to make note of:
- If you authorize police to search your belongings, there is no need for a search warrant because you have waived the need for one.
- If authorities have reliable information to suggest that you may be in possession of something illegal, they can search your belongings on the grounds of probable cause.
- Police also do not need a search warrant if the criminal evidence they are looking for is in plain sight. For example, if the police stop you while walking on a city sidewalk and a controlled substance falls out of your purse or backpack during the encounter, they have the right to search your bag because the potential evidence was visible to them.
- Lastly, if police suspect that criminal activity may be underway, an officer may stop you and reasonably inquire about the situation, which may include a search.
Are the findings admissible in court?
If authorities gained evidence without a warrant in any of the above legal situations, they can likely still use it to convict you of a crime. However, if a search of your belongings was illegal, anything that police found in your possession is typically not admissible in court.
It is important to know what constitutes a legal search of belongings to help you mount a defense against drug charges when you believe police may have violated your rights.