Many people in Louisiana and across the country may not fully understand their legal rights when it comes to police officers searching their property. Some people may think that they have to comply with a search request no matter what, or that officers always have the ability to conduct a search. However, that is not the case.

If you face the possibility of a search, or authorities have searched your property and allegedly found evidence of a crime, you certainly want to understand how this search and seizure may affect you. First, it is important to understand when authorities can lawfully conduct a search.

The search warrant

Contrary to some beliefs, police officers do not have the ability to conduct searches at any time or anywhere they want. They may only conduct reasonable searches if they have probable cause to do so. In this type of scenario, probable cause may refer to an officer’s belief that evidence of a crime is present at the search location. Still, this belief alone is not always enough. Typically, an officer with such a belief will need to present cause for the search to obtain a search warrant from a judge.

A search warrant has specifications, and usually, an officer may only search for items noted on the warrant. For example, if an officer believes that you were involved in drug-related activity, he or she may search for certain substances or drug paraphernalia if listed on the warrant. However, in some cases, an officer may seize property not listed on the warrant if it is in plain sight, such as an illegal firearm laying on a table.

Search without a warrant

It is also possible for officers to lawfully conduct a search without a warrant. For such a stipulation to apply, you would have to lack a reasonable expectation of privacy. For instance, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home because that is where you conduct your personal affairs. However, you may lack a reasonable expectation of privacy for trash left on the curb for pickup. As a result, an officer may search that trash without a warrant.

Additionally, if you give your willful consent to a search, officers do not need a warrant. Still, an officer cannot force you to consent to a search if he or she does not have a warrant.

Assessing a search for your case

If you are facing criminal charges after a search of your property, you may want to review that search to determine whether it took place lawfully. Understandably, you may not have extensive knowledge as to what may constitute a lawful search, and as a result, it may benefit you to discuss this matter with a criminal defense attorney.