Every Texan has rights regarding police search and seizure
Understanding what your rights are when it comes to police search and seizure in Texas can be confusing, especially if law enforcement attempts to overstep their authority and claim that they have the right to search without your permission.
If you aren’t sure about your Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, we invite you to contact Houston defense attorney Matt Sharp for answers.
Are there limits to a police search?
State and federal law, along with the criminal procedural rules, stipulate that a search warrant must contain a detailed description of where law enforcement officers plan to evaluate and what property they intend to seize. The search must occur in the area or areas described by the warrant—and nothing more.
For example, if the warrant requests to search a bedroom and kitchen, officers cannot legally enter any other areas of the home or the vehicles parked on the property to search those as well.
What items can be legally seized?
If law enforcement officers find the property described in the warrant, they are able to seize the items without the owner’s permission. Locked items on the premises cannot be unlocked for purposes of a search without a specific warrant.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule, which include:
- If the evidence is in plain sight but in a room not designated by the warrant, the item or items may be seized.
- Officers may enter other areas not outlined in the warrant if someone is in danger of physical harm or possibly death.
- If law enforcement officers perceive that evidence may be destroyed before they obtain another warrant, they may legally seize the property.
- Officers may enter other areas of the home or property to apprehend a fleeing suspect.
When can a police officer legally search your car?
People often wonder what situations enable police to search vehicles. In most cases, a warrant is needed to search a vehicle. Exceptions include probable cause, such as:
- If when approaching a vehicle the officer smells marijuana, they have probable cause to search the vehicle for drugs and drug paraphernalia.
- If a vehicle occupant has been placed under arrest, law enforcement officers may search the vehicle to find items that may be relevant to the crime.
- If officers suspect that the driver or occupants are carrying weapons, they may legally search the vehicle.
- If the vehicle owner gives their consent, a police search of the vehicle becomes legal.
- When a vehicle becomes lawfully impounded, officers may legally search the vehicle or perform an inventory search.
Sometimes, officers do not have probable cause or legal permission to search a vehicle, but they may attempt to justify their actions by falsely claiming one of these exceptions. If such a situation happened to you, a Houston defense attorney may be able to prevent seized items from being used as evidence.
Can police search your house without a warrant?
There are certain situations in which law enforcement officers may perform a search without being in possession of a warrant. When a suspect is initially detained or arrested, officers commonly perform a search without having a warrant, as in the case of someone being under suspicion of committing a crime. They can be stopped and are subject to being frisked.
After an actual arrest has occurred, officers often conduct a broader search to determine if the suspect is in possession of illegal drugs, weapons or other evidence related to the criminal behavior. Police may conduct a search if given permission to do so in the home, in a vehicle or other locked areas of the property. However, residents have the right to refuse.
Constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable searches.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Federal search and seizure laws
According to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure-Rule 41e:
- The warrant must be issued by a magistrate or state court judge to the officer executing the search.
- The information included in the warrant must entail the identity of the property and items to be seized and who receives the seized items.
- The search and seizure must occur within the designated length of time during daylight hours.
According to Rule 41f: Search and Seizure:
- The executing officer must enter the date and time of the search and seizure.
- The officer present must identify the items seized and prepare them for evidence in the presence of another officer.
- If computers or other electronic devices are seized containing valuable data evidence, the inventory must describe the device. The stored data may be copied.
- The individual owning or residing on the searched property must receive a copy of the warrant and a receipt for the items seized.
- Upon completion of the search and seizure, the warrant must be returned to the issuing judge along with a copy of the inventory detailing the items taken.
When a search becomes illegal
If a property search does not meet the legal standard requirements, the action was performed illegally. Consequently, any evidence obtained during the search may be deemed inadmissible in court. A defense attorney asks the judge for a suppression motion. They may also file a motion to have the property returned. Anyone having endured a search of their home or vehicle must ensure that the action was conducted legally and that their right to privacy was not violated.
Anyone who believes their constitutional rights have been violated should contact a Houston criminal lawyer. Interpretation of the law remains complex. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp has the knowledge and experience needed to evaluate the situation and determine if a client’s rights have been violated.