Searches and Seizures FAQ – Understanding Your Rights
At The Law Office of Monte J. Robbins, Esq., we understand the complexities and anxieties that surround encounters with law enforcement, particularly when it involves searches and seizures. Our goal is to provide clear and concise information to help you understand your rights under the law. Please find answers to some frequently asked questions below. If you require further assistance or legal advice, do not hesitate to contact us at 303-355-5148.
- What Constitutes a Lawful Search by Police?
- Are There Limits to the Privacy of My Property?
- What Is a Search Warrant?
- What Are the Requirements for Issuing a Search Warrant?
- What Actions May Police Perform with a Search Warrant?
- Are Warrants Always Required for Searches?
- Can Others Grant Police Permission To Search My Residence?
- What Are My Rights During a Traffic Stop?
- Can the Police Search My Car if It Has Been Towed and Impounded?
When law enforcement intrudes upon your privacy in a way that defies your reasonable expectation of such, it is deemed a search. Courts consider two key factors to ascertain the legitimacy of your privacy expectations:
- Did you have an anticipation of privacy over the area or object?
- Is your privacy expectation one that society acknowledges as sensible?
An instance where privacy is anticipated and socially respected might include using a public lavatory, where you would not expect to be surveilled. Conversely, visible items inside a car, such as a weapon on the front seat, would not generally fall under privacy expectations, and hence not necessitate a search under legal standards.
Your property's privacy only extends to areas not visible by ordinary public observation. Law enforcement observations made from outside your property—such as through an unobstructed window or from a public vantage point—do not constitute searches. Such visuals may provide grounds for obtaining a search warrant or warrant immediate action in exigent circumstances. While technology-enhanced intrusions like aerial surveillance or thermal imaging may be deemed searches, the boundaries of such rulings can vary across jurisdictions.
A search warrant is an official document sanctioned by a judge that authorizes police to search a specified area for evidence of criminal activity. Generally, obtaining a search warrant prior to a search is necessitated to ensure the search's legality. Absent a warrant, the police must later justify their search in court if it is challenged by an accused party.
A search warrant is issued upon satisfying a judge that a crime may have occurred, and that relevant evidence can be located at a designated place. Police substantiate this through their own findings or through reliable informant tips, which are often corroborated through independent police verification.
With a warrant in hand, police can carry out a search that aligns with the warrant’s specified scope. While they are obligated to stick to the warrant's outlined boundaries, exceptions exist that allow expansion of the search area under certain conditions, such as immediate threat detection or the discovery of incriminating items in plain view.
Not always. Law enforcement can proceed with warrantless searches under various circumstances, including but not limited to:
- Obtaining voluntary consent for the search
- Conducting a search incidental to a lawful arrest
- Acting in the interest of public or officer safety
- Preventing forthcoming evidence tampering or destruction
- Pursuing an immediate chase of suspected criminals
The authority to consent to a search of shared or personal living spaces can be complicated. While a roommate may consent to the search of common areas, your personal space, like a bedroom, is protected from such consent. Likewise, a landlord does not have the privilege to authorize searches of rented homes despite property ownership.
If an officer suspects that you pose a threat or detects signs of criminal activity during a traffic stop, he or she may conduct a pat-down search, or inspect your vehicle given probable cause exists. This is contingent on a reasonable belief of danger or criminal involvement.
Yes, standard procedure permits the police to perform comprehensive searches of impounded vehicles, including the trunk and containers within. It's imperative, however, for these searches to comply with fair and predetermined protocols.
At The Law Office of Monte J. Robbins, Esq., we stand ready to protect and advocate for your rights. If you have encountered a search or seizure and question its legality, or have other related legal concerns, contact us immediately at 303-355-5148 for legal guidance.