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Top 9 Search and Seizure Questions

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Now that the FBI has been caught bugging two California courthouses, many people are wondering about the limits of police surveillance. Recording conversations falls under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures."

So what's considered unreasonable? It's been a long time since the Constitution was written, and society and technology have changed quite a bit since then. Here are some of the limits of police search and seizure today:

1. Valid Search Warrant? 3 Things to Look For

If police have a warrant, the search or seizure will almost always be reasonable. But how do you know if the warrant is legit?

2. When Are Warrantless Searches OK?

While police need a warrant to search, seize, or conduct surveillance in most instances, there are quite a few exceptions to the warrant requirement.

3. Can Police Read or Search Through Your Mail?

The privacy of written communication was one of the leading interests behind the Fourth Amendment. But it only protects the contents of the letter, and only until you throw it away.

State law on electronic searches can vary, and many allow searches of cell phones if you've been arrested, but the Supreme Court has ruled that police will need a warrant to do so.

5. When Can Police Search Your Home?

Police almost always need a warrant to search your home, but can come in without one if you give them permission, if they see something in plain sight, if you've been arrested at home, or there's an emergency.

6. Can My Home Be Searched If I'm on Parole or Probation?

Some states require that parolees and probationers sign an agreement giving officers permission to search their homes for contraband.

Is every officer a K-9? It may depend on whether police smell marijuana in your house or in your car.

8. Can Police Follow You Without a Warrant?

What if cops are really searching you, but just keeping an eye on you? What kind of surveillance requires a warrant?

Strip searches and cavity searches are extremely invasive and can be humiliating and embarrassing as well. But they are allowed in some cases.

In most cases, if police perform an illegal search or seizure, that evidence can't be used against you. To find out if a particular search was legal, you should ask an experienced criminal defense attorney about your case.

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