As a U.S. citizen, you are entitled to freedom from government intrusion – to an extent. There are limits to your privacy and authorities (when justified) have the right to search your property if a crime is suspected. 

It’s important to know your rights and the rights and responsibilities of the authorities when it comes to the search and seizure of your property. 

The right to conduct reasonable searches

Authorities have the right to conduct reasonable searches. This means the authority must have adequate reason to believe they will find evidence of a crime by conducting a search (probable cause). Sometimes, a search warrant is required to conduct a search. 

It’s required for the authorities to stick to the parameters in the search warrant unless they see evidence of a crime in “plain view.” 

Other things the police are allowed to do include:

  • Conduct a “sweep” of the property for their protection
  • Search with your express consent
  • Conduct a search when someone doesn’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (i.e., a curbside garbage can)
  • Conduct a search in emergency situations

What authorities are not allowed to do

If authorities don’t follow the set standards and requirements during a search, any evidence gathered can be barred from being used against you (through what is called the exclusionary rule). Authorities are also not permitted to use evidence found during an illegal search to find additional evidence (called the fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine). 

There are limits to authorities’ rights to search your person or car, too. Reasonable suspicion must be present, and police cannot stop and frisk you, for example, unless there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. 

Protecting your rights

Knowing your rights regarding the police’s ability to search your person or property is essential. You have rights if you believe you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure that resulted in criminal charges. This evidence can be thrown out in most cases, which could help your criminal case.