Not enough people in the United States know their rights when it comes to police searches and seizures, and this is a problem. Some people get so intimidated around the police, even if they did nothing wrong. Others just do not know if and when police are overstepping their authority. There are certain rights people have that protect them, even against the police, such as when they can say “no” to a police search.
Law enforcement officers do not always have the right to conduct a search. First, the police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or will occur.
If they ask to search a person, his or her belongings, and/ or his or her home or vehicle, the person can deny the police. Then, the police must get a search warrant from a judge in order to move forward. They cannot conduct the search without this warrant.
A search warrant will specifically list persons, items, and locations. Whatever is listed on the warrant is allowed to be searched. If, for example, a bedroom is not listed on the search warrant, but the bathroom is, then the police cannot search in the bedroom. However, if an officer finds guns, for example, while conducting their legal search, and guns are not listed on the warrant, the officer is allowed to seize these items.
In recent years, the discussion of needing a search warrant has come up frequently when it comes to social media profiles and digital devices like cell phones and laptops. Since these are personal items that hold personal and private information, the police do need a warrant to search and seize these items, unless the original owner grants the officers a search without one. Officers also need a search warrant to look through someone’s social media profile. Like with other searches, they still need reasonable suspicion in order to even begin the search and seizure process.
Having the right to deny a search is a right that protects a person. Though a person cannot deny a search if the police come back with a search warrant, they continue to have rights down the line if matters get worse for them. For example, if they are arrested, they have the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer, and the right to post bail.