The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you an extremely important right.
Specifically, it provides as follows:
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.
FindLaw explains that for an officer to have probable cause for a search, he or she must have personal knowledge that would lead a reasonable person to believe either that someone committed a crime at the search location or that evidence of such a crime exists there.
Probable cause for an arrest, i.e., a seizure of your person, exists when officers have personal knowledge that would lead a reasonable person to believe that you committed a crime, are currently committing one or are about to commit one.
Warantless searches and seizures
Warrantless searches are always suspect as being unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional. Nevertheless, officers do have the right to search you and anything in your immediate vicinity and control, such as your backpack, handbag or car, without a warrant in certain circumstances, including the following:
- They can “pat you down” to preserve their own safety.
- If they feel anything during the pat down that leads them to believe that you have a concealed weapon in one of your pockets, they can search that pocket.
- If, when they look through your car windows, they see what appears to be illegal drugs or other contraband in plain view, they can search your car and arrest you for having the contraband.
If, however, you and your attorney can prove at trial that officers conducted an illegal search or seizure, the judge must throw evidence they obtained from it out of court.