When you stand accused of a crime, you have rights. The police have a responsibility to conduct searches and investigations within the limits of the law. If they fail to do so, the charges against you might not hold up in court.
The Fourth Amendment protects suspects from unreasonable searches. Evidence discovered during an unlawful search may not be admissible.
In general, authorities need a warrant to search your home. However, there are exceptions.
A warrantless search may be legal if you give verbal permission for authorities to search your home. Authorities typically do not need a warrant for evidence that is in plain sight. If you have already been arrested, authorities can search your home as part of the investigation.
Questioning and personal searches
Police have the right to stop you and ask reasonable questions based on suspicious behavior. If an officer pulls you over while driving, a routine pat-down is permissible as long as the initial stop was legal.
Students should also be aware that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to school officials, who may search a student’s belongings as long as they have reasonable cause.
Traffic, checkpoints and border stops
Generally, police can pull you over with probable cause, and they may search your vehicle if they suspect criminal activity. Police can use dogs to detect illegal substances. Officers at international borders may conduct searches. None of these searches require a warrant.
Authorities may not set up highway checkpoints for the sole purpose of looking for drugs. If your arrest for drug possession or trafficking occurred at a highway checkpoint, the evidence may not be admissible.
Warrantless searches may or may not be lawful depending on the circumstances. If you are facing federal charges, you should understand your Fourth Amendment rights.