The Fourth Amendment is where we look to understand what constitutes an illegal search by police. It states that people are to be secure from unreasonable searches and that warrants may only be issued when there is probable cause.
Basically, this means that police must have a reason for searching you, your car or your home. While it sounds simple, it is one of the most complex areas of criminal law. Many, many criminal cases are built around showing that evidence was obtained illegally.
Probable cause — the reasonable belief by police that you have committed a crime — usually hinges on one of these conditions:
- Seeing. An officer approaching your care who sees a gun or a packet of heroin in plain sight is almost always justified in searching you.
- Circumstantial evidence. If your car wanders across lane lines, an officer may have a reasonable belief that you are driving under the influence and so may search or administer a sobriety test.
- Expertise. This category is vague. Search is permitted based on an officer's experience and instincts. Because it is so vague, this area is often open to dispute.
- Information. Your own statements or statements by passengers or victims may be enough to trigger a legal search.
- Sensory. If the officer smells liquor or pot on your breath or sees cocaine residue on your nose, that's probable cause for searching and administering a Breathalyzer test.
- Consent. The officer asks if he can search and you say yes.
These are just the bare bones of search law, which draws on thousands of case examples. To know if you were illegally searched, talk to the lawyers at MacDonald Law Office, LLC, in Salisbury, Maryland.
Come in for a no-charge, no-obligation case evaluation. Call (410) 348-7809 or email our attorneys your questions.