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Can Police Search My Home or Office Without My Permission?

Having a police officer show up at your home or place of employment unexpectedly can be terrifying, especially if the officer is demanding that he or she be permitted to search through your belongings. Many individuals are intimidated by an officer’s presence and feel as if they have no choice but to acquiesce to whatever the officer indicates he or she wants to do. However, you do not necessarily have to allow an officer to rummage through your belongings just because he or she demands permission to do so or appears threatening. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution along with Illinois’ constitution and laws give you rights and protections against this type of activity.

 When Are My Fourth Amendment Rights in Danger?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. This amendment prevents government actors – police and those acting on behalf of the government – from searching and/or taking your property without a warrant based on probable cause if the search is of a location where a reasonable person would expect to have some measure of privacy. In other words, you should be concerned about possible violations of your Fourth Amendment rights whenever a police officer asks to search your personal residence or through personal items without a warrant.

Where Would I Have an “Expectation of Privacy?”

It is difficult to say where you would have a legitimate expectation of privacy as this is a determination made after considering the facts and circumstances of your case. In almost every instance you have a legitimate expectation of privacy in your home, your car, a private office (especially if you own the business), and in your bags such as a purse or backpack. Courts have also declared you have an expectation of privacy in the contents of your cellular phone. By contrast, the exterior of your car – the license plate and make and model, for instance – are not considered private. Neither are the contents of your trash once that trash has been removed to the side of the road or where your trash is regularly collected.

Does a Police Officer Always Need a Warrant if I Have a Legitimate Expectation of Privacy?

Officers do not necessarily need a warrant in order to search an item or location in which you have a legitimate expectation of privacy. There are a number of exceptions to the requirement that officers obtain a warrant. Some of the more commonly-invoked exceptions include:

·             Consent: If officers obtain your verbal or written permission to search, officers do not need to get a warrant unless you subsequently revoke your consent;

·           Destruction of evidence: If officers have probable cause to believe that evidence is located in a private location and that evidence will be destroyed if they leave to seek a warrant, officers may be able to enter and search without a warrant.

·           Exigent circumstances: If there is an emergency or special situation that makes it impractical to obtain a warrant before searching a private location, the warrant requirement may be waived. For instance, your car can be searched on the side of the road if the officer has probable cause to believe evidence of criminal activity will be found inside. In such a case, the officer generally does not need to obtain a warrant first.

A police officer who violates your Fourth Amendment rights may find that the evidence he or she finds and wants to use in court to prove your guilt cannot be admitted. 

About the Author
Sami Azhari
Posted - 03/14/2016 | Illinois