Unreasonable Searches and Seizures – What You Need to Know

Unreasonable searches and seizures.

Unreasonable Searches and Seizures – What You Need to Know

There are times where law enforcement officials need to conduct searches of people or property in their criminal investigations or may need to seize certain items for evidence. In the United States, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This means that, for a search or seizure to be considered reasonable, and thus, lawful, law enforcement should have:

  • Probable cause that allows for them to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge, or
  • A situation that allows for a search or seizure without a warrant, such as:
    • Searches following a lawful arrest or traffic stop for which there is probable cause.
    • Situations in which evidence is at risk of being destroyed.
    • Searches or seizures consented to without a warrant.
    • Frisks and pat-downs resulting from reasonable suspicion the individual is involved in something unlawful.
    • Searches or seizures of abandoned property.

Requirements to Obtain a Warrant

Warrants will not be issued by a judge unless there is specific reason for them. Police should be able to prove who or what they are looking for and explain the probable cause that necessitates the warrant. Warrants will not be issued for police to simply “dig around” to look for probable cause.

Examples of Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

Unreasonable searches and seizures may occur in the following situations:

  • Searches conducted without a warrant that require a warrant.
  • Searches that violate the reasonable expectation of privacy, such as:
    • The use of hidden cameras.
    • The recording of electronic communications without consent.
  • Searches or seizures due to racial profiling only.
  • The seizing of items unrelated to the crime being investigated.
  • Vehicle searches following a routine traffic stop for which there is no probable cause to search.

Exclusionary Rule

Evidence that is obtained through an unreasonable or unlawful search or seizure may not be used against the defendant in court and is thus “excluded.”



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