If the police confront you, you may be unsure about your rights. Officers may ask to search you or your property, but what happens if they do not present a warrant? In some cases, if the police do not have probable cause, you can say no.
According to the U.S. Constitution, police cannot search you or your home without a warrant or probable cause.
Defining probable cause
Probable cause is more than suspicion of a crime but less than no reasonable doubt. For example, if an officer pulls a vehicle over and smells alcohol upon approaching the car, then he or she could reasonably deduce that there may be an open container in the car. Probable cause can also refer to eyewitness testimony. For example, if someone witnesses a criminal act and the police find someone near the scene who matches the description, the officer may claim probable cause to search the suspect.
Investigating criminal action
An officer can perform a search if he or she feels like the time it takes to obtain a warrant could jeopardize the evidence or public safety. For example, if the police show up at a suspect’s residence to make an arrest and the officers have reason to believe that the suspect will try to escape, the officers can enter the building. Additionally, if the police arrive at someone’s house after receiving a call about someone in distress, the police may have the ability to enter the home to search it.
If the court finds that the police performed a search of you or your property without probable cause, it can invalidate the entire search.