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What is a "Search?"

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects U.S. citizens from “unreasonable” search and seizure. In other words, citizens have the right to privacy, be it in their homes, in their cars, in their pockets, and much more. Thus, law enforcement and authority figures are barred from stopping you without reason and searching you for evidence that shows you may have committed a crime.

This is particularly important when it comes to drug possession charges. Officers are constantly on the lookout for people who are in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, as these objects and substances are prohibited and therefore illegal to have in your possession. However, unless officers conduct a legal search for these things, they can’t be held against you.

What Makes Search Reasonable?

If you have to ask whether or not a search is “reasonable,” the safe assumption is it’s not. Officers may only search someone if one of a very limited number of circumstances is present. Those circumstances are:

  • You give them permission to conduct a search
  • They get a search warrant
  • They reasonably believe that going through the process of getting a search warrant will lead to the destruction and loss of evidence
  • Your circumstances fall into a “special needs” exception
  • No search was necessary

Why Is Reasonable Search Important?

When a search isn’t conducted legally, any evidence obtained from that search can’t be submitted in court. This is known as the “exclusionary rule,” and it has been upheld by the Supreme Court in several cases since it was first introduced in 1914. The same rule was then applied to state courts in 1961.

In drug possession cases, this is particularly important because the most obvious evidence against someone accused is the drugs themselves. If an officer unreasonably searches someone and seizes the drugs in their possession, the drugs can’t be submitted as evidence in court because they were illegally obtained. Thus, they’re excluded and in many cases the prosecution’s case usually falls apart.

When Is A Search Unnecessary?

Remember earlier how we said one reason a search could be made reasonable is that no search was necessary? This is known as the “plain view” exception. In other words, contraband that pertains to a police investigation may be submitted as evidence without being obtained via a search if the contraband was in plain public view, and thus not subject to the same guarantee of privacy.

For example, an officer stops a suspect walking down the street with a large bag of marijuana in their hands. Under the “plain view” exception, the officer would be allowed to seize the controlled substance and arrest the suspect for drug possession. In this instance, the officer doesn’t actually need to conduct a search because the evidence that the crime had been committed (the bag of marijuana) was in plain view and the suspect did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The same thing applies to things left in plain view in your car. Even though the contents of your car are protected by the same search restrictions under the Fourth Amendment, contraband left in plain view through one of the windows doesn’t actually require a search to be performed since the average person would be able to spot the contraband, and thus know that a crime had been committed.

Have you been arrested and charged with drug possession? Talk to a skilled Scranton drug crimes lawyer by calling the Law Offices of William D. Thompson at (570) 666-1068 today!