When police in California want to search your property, they need to establish probable cause. This means that they cannot search just because they feel like it. Instead, they need to provide a reason behind why they suspect someone is committing a crime. Their justification must then stand up to outside scrutiny. In other words, their explanation of why they believe probable cause exists must seem reasonable to the courts.
What counts as probable cause
Though police officers might suspect someone of committing a crime, this suspicion is not sufficient to establish probable cause. Evidence is necessary.
The establishment of probable cause helps prevent police officers from targeting or searching people unfairly. If a police officer simply dislikes you, is in a bad mood or thinks you look suspicious, they still have no right to search you unless they have additional evidence.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution establishes your rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Examples of probable cause to perform a search include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The sight of illegal items
- The scent of illegal items
- Admission of guilt
- Sounds that indicate the occurrence of a crime
Ignoring probable cause
Unfortunately, these laws don’t always prevent individual police officers from engaging in unreasonable search and seizure. If a police officer chooses to perform a search against your wishes, you can tell them you don’t consent to the search. If they go ahead anyway, it’s best to behave respectfully. Instead of attempting to stop them in the moment, you can seek legal counsel later.
Even after the search is over, your rights still matter. If you believe you’ve been a victim of unreasonable search and seizure, you may benefit from contacting an attorney with experience in criminal law.