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The fourth amendment of the United States Constitution grants citizens protection from unreasonable government intrusion into their lives. Each state also has its own statutes that provide similar if not identical protection as the fourth amendment.

Perhaps a police officer recently searched through your car, home, or frisked your body and you are wondering if the process was legal or if the officer needed a warrant. Both the federal government and the South Carolina government allow for warrantless searches in some situations. Unfortunately, the police sometimes search the personal belongings of someone they have pulled over or arrested when they have no cause to do so.

When Do Police Not Need Warrants?

Authorities typically do not have the legal right to search your home, vehicle, or person without a warrant, but some exceptions do exist. These include:

  • The police officer sees something in plain view such as illegal drug paraphernalia on the dashboard of your car when pulling you over for another offense, such as speeding or a broken taillight. The caveat is that the police officer cannot have used anything to magnify the view.
  • The police officer smells a distinct odor such as marijuana smoke coming from your car or alcohol on your breath.
  • When you give an officer limited permission. A common example of this is allowing the police to look in the glove box of your car but not the trunk.
  • When a police officer is in hot pursuit of a vehicle whose driver may have recently committed a crime.
  • When a police officer sees a person steal an item and that person makes it home before the officer has a chance for questioning.
  • When urgent circumstances override your right to privacy such as a life-threatening situation involving someone in your home.

An officer can conduct a pat-down of your body if he or she has reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime. Police officers can also stop you for questioning under the same standard.

What Information Do Search Warrants Contain?

A search warrant is a legal document signed by a magistrate or judicial officer with no involvement in the investigation. When applying for a search warrant, officers must include a detailed description of the place, object, or person they intend to search and the reasons for the search. Police officers typically have 14 days to execute a search warrant and must do so between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 pm.

Circumstances Requiring Police Officers to Obtain Warrants

The police always need a warrant to search someone’s home when the situation is not urgent. They also need warrants for invasive searches such as a smartphone or a car parked on private property. Warrants also apply to obtaining blood samples or another type of bodily probe unrelated to an emergency.

Are You Concerned a Police Officer May Have Violated Your Rights?

You have the right as an American citizen to be free from unreasonable search or seizure. If you feel that a South Carolina police officer did not honor that right, we invite you to contact the Law Office of Sara A. Turner for an initial legal consultation.


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