Police officers conduct searches and seize property as a way to interrupt criminal activity and facilitate the prosecution of individuals who have broken the law. However, the ability of police officers to do so is subject to strict limits established in the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment protects people in the United States from unreasonable searches and seizures of their person and property.
Generally, law enforcement professionals receive extensive training on the appropriate practices for conducting searches or seizing property during a criminal investigation. Still, mistakes in those procedures are very common and can have implications during a criminal trial. These are some of the more common mistakes that officers make during search or seizure attempts.
They don’t have the right to search or seize property
There are numerous rules that may allow for the search of private property and for police officers to seize it in some cases. To enter and search a property, officers usually need to have a warrant, permission from the property owner or probable cause to suspect a crime in progress. Barring any of those three justifications, the decision to search may only yield evidence that won’t be admissible in court.
They behave themselves inappropriately
A search may involve checking someone’s body for weapons or drugs. There are rules that apply to when officers can search a person, and when they do so, they should follow best practices. Some police officers will be unnecessarily rough, possibly crossing the line into brutality by slamming people against the ground or into buildings or intentionally harming them while searching their bodies. Other times, a search may be a privacy violation that borders on sexual assault that when an officer searches someone of the opposite sex despite their request for a same-sex search.
They may not keep proper records
If a police officer seizes $500 in cash out of somebody’s wallet while claiming that they were likely proceeds from illegal activity, the officer needs to keep a record of what they have taken and will need to turn in that property to the state. Failing to properly document the search of an individual and the seizure of their property would be a violation of that individual’s rights and possibly of the law.
Those who are able to raise questions about illegal searches and property seizures may be in a position to take action including seeking their property back or excluding certain evidence from a criminal trial. Seeking legal guidance to learn more about limits on police activity may benefit those under investigation and those who have been recently arrested for alleged criminal activity.