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Can The Police Legally Search Me or My Property For Drugs?

Individual freedom is the backbone of the United States constitution. However, many citizens are surprised to learn that there are limits to their freedom and privacy. Though there are many instances of illegal search and seizures conducted by police officers, there are also plenty of methods that they can deploy to conduct a legal search for weapons or drugs. As a citizen, it is important to know your rights and when they have been violated. In general, the police can search you in certain areas, if they have reasonable suspicions that you have illegal drugs, or if a search warrant has been issued. In some cases, if you have been illegally searched and drugs were seized, you can have the case thrown out of court. This may require the investigative skills of a seasoned criminal defense attorney — more information here. Learn more about what rights the police have to search you for drugs below.

What The Fourth Amendment Grants The Police

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement agents to engage in “reasonable” searches. Generally speaking, the police can search you if they have evidence or adequate reason to believe that you are carrying or harboring drugs. In the case that the police believe that you have drugs in your home, they must provide a judge with the evidence. If a judge agrees that they have provided either enough evidence or reasonable cause, they may issue a search warrant. In addition, police can sometimes expand their search beyond the parameters of a search warrant if there is evidence in “plain sight.” For instance, if there is a search warrant issued for your house, but they see drugs in the passenger seat of your car before walking into your house. Though most searches require a warrant, in “exigent” circumstances, police are allowed to conduct searches in emergency situations when they do not have enough time to seek a warrant.

When The Police Can Legally Search You

The police can legally search you or your property for drugs in specific situations identified and made clear by federal and state laws. Listed below are the circumstances in which law enforcement is allowed to conduct a legal search.

  • If you have been detained or arrested.
  • You are at a location where the police are searching for drugs and they have reasonable suspicion to believe that you are carrying drugs.
  • You are in a vehicle and the police believe that you are carrying drugs based on evidence such as a “sniffer dog” identifying drugs, the presence of drug paraphernalia, and/or the existence of drugs that can be seen.
  • You give the police informed consent to conduct a search of you or your property for drugs.

What The Police Cannot Do

Other than the exceptions mentioned above, the police cannot conduct a search without a warrant issued by a judge, your consent, emergency situations, and/or there are drugs in plain sight. If evidence of drugs is obtained illegally, it may be inadmissible in court which would bar prosecutors from using it against you in any form. In addition, law enforcement agencies cannot use evidence that resulted from an illegal search for something else. Unless you are clearly armed, dangerous, and/or the police have reasonable evidence that you are carrying or harboring drugs, the police cannot randomly “stop and frisk” you. If you or your property has been illegally searched, it is imperative that you connect with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.


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