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When a police officer has probable cause to search a person or property, they are required to have met a legal certain legal standard required by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and the cases that interpret it. They’re required to show facts, circumstances, or evidence that would cause a reasonable person to believe that a person is committing or has committed a crime.
Searches can be performed with or without a warrant, depending on the circumstances. Commission of a minor traffic offense such as a red light violation or speeding doesn’t provide a sufficient basis for a vehicle search without consent. Most vehicle searches result from the driver being nervous or feeling intimidated and consenting to a search. Should the officer see something illegal that’s in plain view, or smell something like marijuana, there’s a sufficient basis for a search.
Consent transforms an otherwise illegal search into a legal search. Any area of a car or home can be searched once proper consent has been given. Police officers are under no obligation to tell a person that they have a right not to consent to a search.
A landlord can consent to a search of an apartment. Anybody who has a key or whose name appears on a lease can consent. If three people share an apartment and only one of them objects to a search, consent for the search is not given. The person objecting must be present at the premises in order to invoke their right to refuse.
Every day police officers are confronted with unpredictable and dangerous circumstances on the street that might threaten them or others. Under the stop and frisk rule, police can stop a person on the street and pat them down for anything that might be illegal, so long as the officer has a reasonable suspicion that there is criminal activity. If they believe that the person is illegally armed, they can frisk for weapons. A reasonable suspicion differs from probable cause. It might yield probable cause, whereupon an arrest and seizure would result.
A search warrant permits police officers to search a place without consent. The officers must first obtain the warrant from a judge. Under oath, the officers must demonstrate that there is probable cause to issue the warrant. They must describe the place to be searched with particularity along with the items they seek to seize.
Ordinarily, officers executing a search warrant must knock and announce their presence at the place to be searched. Then they’re required to wait a reasonable amount of time for somebody to open the door. If there are reasonable grounds to believe that evidence might be destroyed or removed while waiting for somebody to answer the door, the knock and announce rule is relaxed. There is a growing trend toward no knock warrants. Once entry is gained, officers may only search where the evidence they seek might be located. They can’t look for a stolen television inside of a toaster.