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Know Your Rights: How to Respond to a Search or Seizure

Though it’s not something most people like to think about, the possibility of a police encounter can be a stressful experience. Whether you have a criminal record or you’re squeaky clean, police officers may want to search your person or your vehicle in some instances. The good news is that you have rights in these situations. It’s imperative that you understand them and assert them in those situations when police might be breathing down your neck.

Here’s an overview of how to respond in these situations.

Understanding “search” Distinctions

There are many rules that govern how and when police officers can conduct a “search.” However, not everything the police do will constitute a search. In general, a police investigation becomes a search when police are infringing upon a reasonable expectation of privacy. While this is something of a moving target, you generally have a privacy expectation in your home, with your vehicle, and with the personal property on your person. In order for an officer to gain access to those areas, he must either have probable cause, your consent, or some other exception that allows the search.

Answering the Consent Question

In general, in order for a police officer to search your property, they will need probable cause. This means they will need to have a reasonable belief that the search will uncover evidence of a crime. In some cases, this will require a warrant. In others, like when they have seen a crime take place, a warrant is not necessary. However, if you give consent to the officer, the probable cause requirement goes away. Police officers will often ask for consent to make their job easier, putting pressure on property owners. It is never a good idea to give consent to a search, even if you are sure that police will not find anything. Remember that even if they find something unrelated to their search purpose, like the remnants of drugs, for instance, they can charge you with a crime.

Speak to a Lawyer Before Making a Decision

When police officers cannot conduct a search right away, they will threaten to come back with a warrant. This is certainly their right and when this happens you would be wise to speak with an attorney before proceeding with the police. Lain T Donnell, a Newmarket lawyer says that if you are not under arrest, police officers do not have to read you your rights, or provide you with an attorney. They can simply ask questions. Because you are not under arrest you are under no compulsion to answer those questions. If police officers are not placing you under arrest, and if they do not have probable cause or a warrant to conduct a search, you should politely excuse yourself and immediately speak to an attorney.

Be Polite and Courteous

Understand that there might be times when police have a legitimate ability to conduct a search. There will be other times when they do not have this right, but will search your home, car, or person anyway. These situations could be potentially dangerous if you are not careful. The best approach is to be kind and courteous to the officers, not saying anything that could get you into trouble.

Consulting with an attorney is always a good idea in these situations. Search and seizure issues can be complex, even if you have not committed a crime. The important thing is to know that you don’t have to give consent or answer officer questions. When in doubt, say nothing until you speak to your attorney.

This article is from Brooke Chaplan, a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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