It can be extremely intimidating when a police officer asks to search you or your property, or when police officers show up with a search warrant. If you are facing a charge after a police search, remember: the U.S. Constitution protects you against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” And Wisconsin’s state constitution uses the same language. In many criminal cases, evidence is thrown out because police officers violated the defendant’s rights by conducting an unlawful search. However, this is important: charges don’t get thrown out automatically. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to protect your rights and future.
Here are some important things to know about your right to protection against illegal search and seizure:
1. Should you give permission?
Many people believe that because they haven’t done anything wrong, they can let police officers conduct a search. However, even if you have nothing to hide, think twice about allowing the police to search you or your property. When the police conduct a search, they are looking for evidence to use against you. If the police don’t have a search warrant or a good reason to conduct a search, you don’t have to give permission.
2. The police need a good reason to conduct a search
Law enforcement must go through a specific process to be able to search you or your property. For a search to be lawful, the police must have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been committed. “Reasonable” is an important word here. For example, if you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the police need a good reason to search your car or your person. A minor traffic violation is generally not a good enough reason to conduct a search.
3. The limits of search warrants
If a judge issues a search warrant to search you or your property, you generally have to comply. However, a search warrant must be limited in scope. The warrant must state what the police expect to find and where they expect to find it. If the police expand the search beyond the scope of the warrant, they must have a good reason to do so. For example, if the police are conducting a search of your house and, while walking up your driveway, they see evidence of a crime in plain sight on the seat of your car, the search may be expanded to your car.
The question of whether a search was legal is a common question in criminal cases. To learn more, please see our previous posts: