How To Question The Basis Of A Police Search

Posted on: 31 August 2021

In criminal law, police searches are one of the government's basic tools for finding evidence. Fortunately for the public, the law requires cops to have some sort of compelling argument before they search. Oftentimes, the police need to go to a judge and obtain a search warrant before they do anything.

How do you raise these questions about a search? A criminal defense lawyer will tell you to address these three things.

Ask the Police for a Warrant

The strongest legal justification for a search is that the cops obtained a warrant from a judge. If this is the case, the police should serve you with a copy of the warrant. The warrant will state what the police are looking for and where they believe they will find it.

Don't lose the copy of the warrant. As soon as things settle down, take the time to make a copy of it and store the original. You can then share the copy with a criminal defense attorney. The lawyer can examine it and tell you whether there's anything wrong with it.

What If the Cops Don't Have a Warrant?

The police better have a sensible justification to conduct a warrantless search. Unfortunately, the courts give the cops lots of room to justify searches. For example, a cop might claim they heard gunshots from inside an apartment. If the cops subsequently search the apartment for a gun or ammunition, a judge will probably uphold the search as legal.

You have a right to ask the cops what the justification for the search is. Don't expect this to magically make the search stop. Instead, asking will simply get the statement on the record. Given the prevalence of body cams, it will be hard for the cops to fudge the answer at a later time.

Stay Calm, and Don't Confront the Police

A police search can feel very violating, especially if the cops physically search your body. However bad it is, there's no upside in fighting with the police or getting angry.

These are armed people who believe they are operating within the law. The most you can do is take good mental notes of what's happening. If you have a camera or smartphone, use it to record the events.

Also, once the cops leave, write notes about the search right away. If a cop entered a room that wasn't listed on the warrant, for example, make a note of it. Include the officer's name if you caught it or a description. Make these notes while your memory is fresh as possible then reach out to a criminal defense lawyer.