When it comes to illegal searches, Wisconsin laws (and federal laws, for that matter) can be very confusing. For example, can you tell police that you don’t consent to a search? Further, how do you know if a search that the police are performing is legal or illegal?
As Milwaukee criminal defense attorneys, we deal with questions like these all the time. So what do you know about illegal police searches?
When Police Are Allowed to Search
If you’re arrested, the police are allowed to search you. In fact, they have to search you to make sure you aren’t carrying weapons; if, during that time, they find that you have drugs or something that you’re not supposed to have, they can use it against you later.
Police can also search your vehicle if you’re pulled over for, say, running a red light – but the catch is that they have to see something illegal in plain sight. If you have “roaches” in your cup holder, a weapon on your passenger seat, or stolen property sitting on your back seat, you can expect the police to conduct a legal search of your vehicle. They can also search you if they’re reasonably certain that you are involved in a crime.
If you give police your consent, they can search anything they want to. For example, if police ask you to let them into your home to look around, or if they ask you to pop your trunk and you say yes, they’re allowed to search.
Finally, in many cases (but not all), a police search is legal if the police feel that it’s necessary to prevent imminent danger to life, serious danger to property, or to stop the destruction of evidence.
When Police Are Not Allowed to Search
Illegal searches violate your Fourth Amendment rights; the Constitution essentially guarantees that you’re safe from living under the iron fist of a police state. Police can’t just stop anyone on the street and do a pat-down; they can’t just burst into your home, uninvited, and start digging through your belongings.
If a police officer asks for your consent to search anything, including your home, your vehicle or your person, you do not have to say yes. You have the right to demand that they produce a warrant signed by a judge. If police have searched you or your property, and you’re not sure it was legal, call a Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer right away – there may still be a way to protect your rights if they were initially violated by police.