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When can police conduct a search for drugs?

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2024 | Drug Crimes

Police officers often have to search for evidence of a crime when they suspect that one has been committed. For example, when they believe someone has drugs in their personal possession for their own use – or for any other type of criminal activity – finding these suspected drugs and/or paraphernalia can become a priority.

It’s critical that these searches are conducted in a lawful manner. Illegal searches may enable officers to recover evidence; however, that evidence likely won’t be admissible in court because it was obtained illegally.

Consent-based searches

If an individual voluntarily agrees to let police officers conduct a search of their property, vehicle or person, the officers don’t need a warrant. It’s important for consent to be given freely and without coercion for it to be considered valid. The person giving consent must have the authority to do so, and they can withdraw their consent at any time during the search process.

Searches with a warrant

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant from a judge or magistrate. To issue a warrant, there must be probable cause supported by an affidavit detailing the facts and circumstances that justify the search. A search warrant typically specifies the location to be searched and the items or individuals sought.

Special circumstances

Several exceptions to the warrant requirement have been recognized by courts, allowing police to conduct searches under specific conditions:

  • Exigent circumstances: Police can conduct a search without a warrant if there is an urgent need to act to prevent physical harm, the destruction of evidence, or the escape of a suspect.
  • Search incident to a lawful arrest: Following an arrest, police are allowed to search the person arrested and the immediate area around them to ensure officer safety and prevent evidence destruction.
  • Automobile exception: Because vehicles are mobile and have a lower expectation of privacy, police can search a vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime.
  • Plain view doctrine: If a police officer lawfully enters a space and sees incriminating evidence in plain view, they can seize it without a warrant.

Understanding how to address unlawfully gathered evidence in a criminal defense strategy is critical. Because of this, working with a legal representative to get one’s case developed in strategic ways is often beneficial for defendants.