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Police must have probable cause to conduct searches

On Behalf of | May 1, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Law enforcement officers and agencies in New Jersey and across the country are limited in their powers by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment is one of the most prominent limiters on the power of the state. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. However, reasonable searches and reasonable seizures are not prohibited. For a search or seizure to be reasonable, generally speaking, the police or other state agent must have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be discovered.

In many cases, the police will present facts to a judge to support a finding of probable cause for a search, and the judge will issue a search warrant. Once they have secured a search warrant, law enforcement officers are allowed to enter the location and search for the things listed on the warrant. In some situations, police may expand the search, such as where they encounter evidence of criminal activity in plain view.

Police may also conduct searches with the consent of the resident or other person in control of the property. Such searches, though, are limited to the extent of the consent. Consent must be voluntarily obtained and not gained by trick or coercion. Police can conduct searches without consent in areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. They can also conduct searches without consent or a warrant if there are exigent circumstances.

The Constitutionality of a search depends on the specific facts of the case. Criminal defendants in New Jersey might want to consult with an attorney about the options they have. In some cases, an attorney with experience in criminal defense law might be able to argue against the admissibility of prosecution evidence, like where evidence was discovered in an unlawful search. An attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain or offer alternative theories of the crime at trial in order to get the charges reduced or dismissed.