As residents of the United States, we are granted a certain level of privacy
and freedom from government intrusion. With that being said, these freedoms
are not absolute. Law enforcement officers are permitted under certain
circumstances to perform searches of our homes, vehicles, or other property
as a means of identifying and seizing illegal items, stolen goods, or
evidence of criminal activity. But under what circumstances may the police
perform a search, and what are their limitations?
The police MAY do the following:
1. Perform a “reasonable” search: According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the
police reserve the right to perform searches and seizures when it is “reasonable.”
To prove that a search is reasonable, the police must have enough evidence
to suspect that a person is guilty of wrongdoing, known as probable cause.
If a police officer has probable cause, they may perform a search without
2. Search when there is no “legitimate expectation of privacy”: If a person does not have a privacy interest in the items or evidence,
the police may take them without even performing a formal “search.”
For example, a person were to leave their marijuana pipe on the hood of
their car overnight. Since there is no “expectation of privacy”
for things left in plain view, the police may confiscate it without question.
No search has legally occurred.
3. Use firsthand information or an informant: The police may use their own intelligence or reliable information gathered
from an informant to justify a search.
4. Search beyond the bounds of a warrant: In circumstances where the police are granted a warrant to conduct a search,
they may search beyond the bounds specified in the warrant if it is necessary
to protect others, prevent evidence from being destroyed, discover more
about evidence or stolen items that are stored in plain sight, or to search
for evidence or items which the police believe to be in another party
of the property based on their initial findings.
5. Search if you consent: The police do not need probable cause or a warrant to search your property
if you freely and voluntarily consent to a search.
6. Perform a pat-down: The police may perform a “stop and frisk” search if they
believe a person may be concealing a weapon.
The police MAY NOT do any of the following:
1. Search an area where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy: If the police do not have a warrant, they may not perform a search of
any area where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy,
unless one of the warrantless exceptions applies for the given situation.
2. Use evidence obtained illegally against you: If the police conducted a search illegally or unreasonably and obtained
evidence against you, it may not be used against you in court. Similarly,
evidence obtained illegally may not be used as a means to search for further evidence.
3. Search your vehicle: Unless the police have a reasonable suspicion that your vehicle contains
evidence of a crime, illegal items, or stolen goods, your vehicle may
not be searched. The police may search your vehicle, however, if it has
4. Frisk you without probable cause: If the police do not have a reasonable suspicion that you are involved
in criminal activity, they may not pat you down during a “stop and
If you are facing charges after the police have searched your property
or vehicle, our
Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella can examine the circumstances
of your situation and determine whether or not your search was performed
legally. Having defended hundreds of accused clients for more than 20
years, we can protect your freedom and provide the unshakable support
you need during this difficult time.
Call (414) 882-8382 or
schedule a free consultation today to review your legal options.