US citizens have a constitutional right to a certain level of reasonable privacy. The government cannot search your person or your property without good cause. There are laws to protect that privacy, but there are also laws that allow law enforcement officers to encroach upon your privacy in certain situations. This can feel invasive and as if your rights are subject to violation. No one welcomes a police search. Understandably, you may wonder if you have any rights when an officer asks if he or she can search your property. You do have some rights, but you do not have a right to refuse to submit to lawful searches. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure of our person or our property, however, under California law, a law enforcement officer may search you or your property in light of certain specific circumstances. They can request your permission to conduct a search if they have reason to believe they can find evidence of criminal activity on your person or your property. If you provide your consent, he or she can lawfully perform a search. If you do not give your consent, however, they may still be able to conduct the search following a lawful arrest, or with a valid search warrant.
Keep in mind that an officer need only to have probable cause to lawfully arrest you and search your person and/or property. Probable cause does not need to be hard evidence of illegal activity but rather just a valid reason to believe that you were involved in a crime. For example, an officer can arrest you for a DUI if he or she pulls you over for driving unsafely and smells alcohol on your breath. Or, an officer may arrest you and search your home if he or she witnessed what looked like the selling of drugs there. That being said, in light of some form of probable cause, you cannot resist arrest or refuse to let the officer search your property. Likewise, if the officer has a valid search warrant, you cannot refuse to let him or her search your property. A judge can issue a search warrant if he or she has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the illegal activity can be found on your property. If an officer asks to search your property, but does not have a search warrant and is not arresting you based off of probable cause, you have a right to ask the officer the purpose and intent of the search. If he or she does not provide this information, you have a right to politely decline the search request. In this case, the officer may simply obtain a search warrant and return.
If you have questions about your rights in regards to police searches, you may wish to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney. Although there are instances where you cannot refuse a search request, you still have rights in the process. The search must be done lawfully. Furthermore, if the police are searching your home, he or she must first knock, identify him or herself, notify you that they have a search warrant, and allow you time to open the door. They cannot force entry and search your house if they haven't completed these steps, although they do not necessarily have to be done in that order. These rules are in place to protect you and other inhabitants of the property, however, there are instances where an officer may not complete these steps, if time is a factor. Remember, an officer does not necessarily need your explicit permission to conduct a search of your person or your property. If you resisted a search and are facing criminal charges as a result of it or because incriminating evidence was found during the search, you should speak with an attorney about the consequences you may face. If the search and seizure was done unlawfully, you may be able to file a motion to have the evidence gathered from the search deemed inadmissible as evidence. This is a complex motion and requires proof the search was done unlawfully, so it would be wise to have an attorney assist you with the process. In any case, it is always best to cooperate with the police to avoid any mishaps. Knowing your rights in these situations can go a long way toward protecting you in the event your person or property is unlawfully searched.
Are you in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have questions about search request compliance, call experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we know how to prepare you to successfully defend your case and will not be afraid to take your case to trial. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.