Imagine walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly a police officer stops you and searches you. It is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, which protect you from unreasonable search and seizure. An officer may only search you, your home or your vehicle if they have a warrant.
A warrant is a legal document signed by a judge that allows an officer to conduct a search based on probable cause. It should specifically describe the person, place or property that the officer will search. However, there are cases where an officer may search you without a warrant.
When can an officer make a warrantless search?
An officer can search a person or their property without a warrant if the person gives them their consent. The officer may ask permission to search you or your property, but you have the legal right to refuse. An officer would not need your consent to conduct a search if they have probable cause or if the search is not violative of Fourth Amendment rights. They can make a warrantless search in the following circumstances:
- The officer observed contraband or illicit items in plain view.
- The officer has evidence that connects you to criminal activity.
If an officer did not get your consent and did not have a warrant or probable cause when they searched you, any evidence they found might be inadmissible in court.
What should you do when an officer stops you?
North Carolina has no law stating you must provide your name or produce identification when an officer stops you. If they ask you to sit on the curb or submit to an arrest, it would be best to follow the officer and work out the legalities when you have a lawyer present. You can invoke your right to remain silent by letting the officer know.
Do not attempt to resist arrest, and always keep your hands where the officer can see them. You can politely ask the officer the reason for the arrest, but you do not need to say anything or volunteer unnecessary information.
Remember, an officer may only use the evidence they find on your person under the circumstances above or if you consent. Fortunately, you already know you can refuse the search verbally, not physically.