The average person can easily give away information that they have a right to withhold from law enforcement. Remember, you don’t always have to answer questions or allow police to enter your home. In fact, some police officers may try to lure you if you don’t know your rights.
To avoid self-incrimination and protect your privacy, you can learn about three special situations that either do or do not require police to obtain a warrant before searching your property.
No warrant: plain sight or scent
A traffic stop for a minor offense can turn into a bigger problem if the officer clearly notices illegal drugs in the passenger seat, for example. While you can expect a degree of privacy in your home, an officer does not need a warrant to observe incriminating evidence while walking down a public street. This means that the officer did not technically conduct a search, but they can seize contraband.
Warrant: your visitor reported evidence
A judge can only grant a search warrant if police perceive a reasonable threat, or “probable cause.” A houseguest might see stolen wallets in your home, but police still cannot legally enter immediately. Instead, the officer can first apply for a warrant using your visitor’s testimony as a reason to search for stolen property.
No warrant: consent to search
If an officer asks to look inside your home or vehicle and you verbally agree, the officer will be able to search without a warrant. Your permission grants police legal access to personal property. However, it is possible that an officer wrongfully coerced you into agreeing, which you can later dispute in court.
Police officers are not always mindful of your right to privacy, but a criminal defense court will not consider any evidence that they found while violating warrant laws. Contact an attorney if you believe that an officer unfairly forced a search or failed to provide strong probable cause.