When police officers conduct searches or seizures, they must follow the rules outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring police to have probable cause before conducting searches.
However, there are common situations where police overstep their authority and perform illegal searches.
Unreasonable vehicle searches
Police officers cannot search a vehicle without consent from the driver or probable cause to believe they will find evidence of a crime. For example, an officer cannot search a car just because the driver committed a minor traffic violation. However, police often use minor violations as a pretext to fish for evidence of other crimes. These unreasonable searches violate the Fourth Amendment.
Entering private property
Police must have a warrant to enter private property and conduct searches, with some exceptions. For instance, officers can enter in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect. However, they cannot enter property to look for evidence of a crime without probable cause and a warrant. Any evidence found during a warrantless search of private property could be inadmissible in court.
Police officers cannot unreasonably prolong a detention after completing their investigation. For example, officers cannot extend a traffic stop just to bring in a drug-sniffing dog unless they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Even delays as short as 30 minutes could qualify as a Fourth Amendment violation.
Understanding when a search crosses the line can help protect citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. If you believe police obtained evidence illegally, address your concerns with the court to pursue exclusion.