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When Can Police Search Me or My Property?

One very often used tool in the law enforcement tool box is the power to intimidate citizens into voluntarily giving up their rights, usually without even realizing they are doing it.

Most people, when confronted by police, experience a nervous discomfort. This can lead them to act in an overly compliant manner because they fear the possible consequences of displeasing the officer. However, this imbalance of power between citizen and officer leads most people to consent to things they shouldn’t. They may not realize that they are giving up their constitutional protections just because a law enforcement officer made a strongly worded request.

For example, let’s say an officer pulls you over for a broken tail light. After checking your driver’s license and registration, they ask if you have any weapons or illegal drugs in the car. When you say “no,” the police officer may ask, in the strongest language he can without demanding, to check that for himself. Can you say no? Or should you comply?

What Police Can Do

Much about what the police can demand depends on the context of your interaction with the officer. Generally, the law allows the police to act as any reasonable citizen would under similar circumstances. They can ask questions, look through windows that they happen to be near, walk or drive in public areas, etc. They are not, however, allowed to demand compliance without a warrant, search without permission, or detain people or things.

In dangerous situations, an officer’s authority is much higher than in non-threatening contexts. The Supreme Court has ruled that the police are allowed to protect themselves from potentially dangerous people or situations. This gives the police a wider latitude under the reasoning of concerns for safety or searches for weapons. Officers are allowed to perform pat downs in searches for weapons in certain circumstances. Often an officer will find something during their pat down which is clearly not a weapon, and which they then ask the person to produce. However, this is beyond their Court-approved authority, so technically you can say “no” in this situation. 

If you want to avoid long and unpleasant interactions with police, do not give them any reasons to suspect you of criminal activity. Courteously decline to participate in ‘fishing expeditions’ or any other actions you do not wish to perform, but otherwise comply and remain respectful. Of course, police can search you and your vehicle if you are arrested. So, if you are arrested for something it is too late to tell the officer “no.”

What the Police Cannot Do

1. Police are not allowed to frisk for anything except weapons. 

2. Police are not allowed to search everyone just because they have a warrant to search one person.

3. Police cannot look in areas that are not publicly visible without permission, a warrant, or incident to arrest.

4. Police cannot arrest you simply for exercising your constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Reach Out to A-EZ Out Bail Bonds

If you or someone you care about has had a negative interaction with police or law enforcement and they’re now behind bars, the first thing you’re probably hoping to accomplish is a quick release. Instead of struggling through the process alone, be sure to contact our team so we can help you get through the process easily.

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