The police do not have an automatic right to search your property in most circumstances. If they illegally search your home or vehicle, you may be able to have any evidence collected against you thrown out by the court and even get a case against you dropped.
What is considered a “search” by police?
If you try to determine if a search was being performed, the first thing you have to ask is if you should have had privacy on your property. For instance, if you were at your home, then you would expect the police to knock on your door and ask to come inside — not break through the door and push their way inside.
Second, was your expectation of privacy reasonable? For example, if you’re in your car, you expect to have someone ask to open your trunk. If an officer opens it without permission, that would be unusual and likely illegal without a warrant or probable cause.
What should police do if they want to enter your property?
If the police want to enter your property, they need to obtain and present a search warrant to do so in most cases. Police officers may seize property or enter a home if they suspect that evidence is being destroyed; the reason they can do this is because the situation requires immediate action, leaving no time to obtain a warrant.
You can waive your right to challenge a warrant and allow officers into your home to perform a search, but you do not legally have to let them inside without one.
What can police do if they have a search warrant?
The police with a warrant are allowed to enter your premises without permission, so they can look for evidence. The warrant will state what they can do; for instance, it might say the officer may look in the basement for laboratory equipment. The search should be confined to that room.
Whether or not a search is legal can be confusing. An attorney can provide answers to questions you may have on search and seizure issues.