An officer can search you or your property if one of the three
scenarios exists. First, if you are legally stopped, if the officer
does not go beyond the scope of the stop, and if you give your
consent (permission) to search, then he can search you or your
Probable Cause to Search
Second, if he has probable cause, then he can search you or your
property. If he wants to search your house or land, the police
usually conduct an investigation and gather sufficient information
to approach a magistrate judge. He will have to go to the judge and
swear that there is probable cause to search. The magistrate judge
will issue a search warrant for for a specific location. If
contraband is found you will be arrested.
Your attorney will want to investigate to see if probable cause
actually existed. He will also want to determine if the scope of the
search was exceeded. After all, if the police were looking for an
elephant, they couldn't look in your dresser drawers to find it.
Search Incident to Lawful Arrest
Third, an officer can conduct a search incident to a lawful arrest.
For example, if you were pulled over for a traffic violation and
were lawfully arrested for DUI or driving on a Suspended License,
the officer could legally search you and your vehicle.
An automobile exception exists as to the issuance of a search
warrant. If the officer makes an otherwise legal stop, and if he
develops probable cause to believe you or your vehicle contains
contraband, he can search without a warrant. However, in order to
conduct a warrantless search, the same probable cause must exist
that would support a search warrant.
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