The 4th Amendment places limits on the search and seizure powers of police. This article briefly discusses search and seizure laws. To find out whether your rights have been violated, contact Fairfax criminal attorneys Zinicola, Blanch & Overand to discuss your case, review defense strategies, and learn what to expect in court.
A police officer may approach and ask questions of anyone at any time without reason, so long as the officer does not restrict the person’s freedom of movement by word or action. This is called a “consensual encounter.” The individual being questioned during a consensual encounter may elect not to respond to questions and may simply walk away. The police may not detain a person by restricting their freedom of movement unless the officer believes he has reasonable suspicion that a crime is or has been committed. An officer may only detain an individual for questioning if the officer can point to specific facts which lead him to believe the person is or was engaged in criminal activity.
A police officer’s right to search a person—commonly referred to as a “frisk” or “pat-down”—is allowed only when the officer can point to facts that lead to a reasonable belief that the person is “armed and presently dangerous.” The pat-down must be conducted properly and may only be done for the purpose of searching for weapons. The officer cannot attempt to search for anything else, including drugs or contraband. This pat-down does not permit the police to go into the pockets or belongings of the suspect unless the officer can feel an object that is plainly a weapon or other contraband. If the officer cannot be sure that the item is a weapon or contraband, then the fruits of the officer’s search will be suppressed.
If the officer believes he has probable cause—in other words, he can point to specific facts that cause him to believe the individual is guilty of a crime—he may arrest the individual and, without obtaining a warrant, conduct a thorough search of the suspect including his pockets and anything reasonably within reach belonging to the suspect. This includes the cabin of a vehicle if the suspect is arrested in a car. Search warrants are only required to search a person’s home or a vehicle that they were not in at the time of arrest. And, an arrest warrant is only necessary if the crime was a misdemeanor committed outside of the presence of the police officer.
Since it is up to the court to determine whether evidence must be suppressed in a criminal case due to lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the police, it is critical that individuals charged with a crime have representation from a criminal lawyer who has a thorough understanding of search and seizure laws. At Zinicola, Blanch & Overand, our Fairfax criminal attorneys are experienced, knowledgeable, and, most importantly, genuinely care about you and your case. Call today to discuss your case for free.