Search-and-seizure laws limit the conditions that allow law enforcement to search and seize you or your property. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution states the following:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
So, when is an officer allowed to search you? Read on for more information about search and seizure in Virginia.
Understanding Virginia’s Search-and-Seizure Laws
A search describes when a law enforcement officer looks for something considered private. For something to be considered private, you must have legitimate, reasonable expectations of privacy regarding it. Privacy requires two conditions:
- There must be a belief that the place an object is stored is private. For example, an item sitting in the front passenger seat of one’s car would not be considered private because it’s in plain sight, whereas something inside your one’s glove box would be considered private because the box can be locked.
- The belief that something is private must be reasonable, understandable, and realistic. For example, claiming that an object sitting on the ground next to one’s car is private would not be reasonable, as it’s visible to anyone.
A seizure happens when law enforcement officers detain or arrest a person or remove their property from their possession without an expectation of returning it.
When Is Search or Seizure Permitted Without a Warrant?
There are several conditions under which a law enforcement officer can search you or your vehicle without a warrant. These include:
- If you consent. If an officer asks for your permission to search you and you agree, a warrant is not required, and any evidence found can be used against you.
- If you are arrested. If you are placed under arrest, you lose the reasonable expectation of privacy, so law enforcement can search you or your vehicle.
- Plain view. An object in plain view can’t be considered private because a search is unnecessary to uncover it.
- Probable cause. If a law enforcement officer can observe something that points to criminal activity, they are allowed to search you or your vehicle.
When Is a Search or Seizure Unlawful?
Absent the conditions listed above or a warrant, any search or seizure is unlawful in Virginia. The evidence uncovered during an illegal search can’t be used against someone in court. It’s important to note that Fourth Amendment protections only apply to federal or state law enforcement officials. Private security employees are not bound by these laws.
How a Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer Could Help
If you’ve been the victim of an unlawful search and seizure, it’s imperative to contact a Virginia defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Whitestone Young, PC, have over decades of experience defending Virginians from unlawful searches, so we know how to best defend you. Call 703-591-0200 for a case consultation. Let us protect your rights from unscrupulous law enforcement officers. Call today.