People in Texas know that they have constitutional rights, but they may not understand how those rights protect them in different situations. One of those constitutional protections is the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures through the Fourth Amendment. While people may know that it limits what the police may do when stopping or searching people, they may not understand their rights and defenses in each type of situation.
Searches of homes
When people are in their homes, they are provided the greatest level of protection. For the most part police will need to either be allowed into the home by someone lawfully inside the home or they will need a valid warrant signed by a judge before they can enter. There are some exceptions to this rule in emergency situations when they cannot wait for a warrant in order to protect people or preserve key evidence. They can also use pieces of evidence if they are in plain sight while the officer is lawfully on the property.
Searches of vehicles
People have fewer protections when police search vehicles. Police generally can stop vehicles if they are violating the law in any way. Once the vehicle is stopped, if police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity inside the vehicle, they are allowed to search it without a warrant. They can also use dogs to sniff the outside of the vehicle if it is stopped for a valid reason. At international border crossings police can also conduct routine stops and searches.
Searches of people
Police can also conduct brief stops of people out in public, if they have a reasonable belief that criminal activity is occurring. This also extends to drivers and passengers in vehicles if they have a reasonable belief that criminal activity is occurring.
The key element to most stops and searches is that the police need to have a reasonable belief that criminal activity is occurring. In some situations, they will also need a valid warrant before searching. Police cannot simply search vehicles, homes and people based on a whim. If police cannot articulate that they have a reasonable belief that criminal activity is occurring prior to the stop or search any evidence of drugs that they obtained as a result of the search could be thrown out and convictions become unlikely.
There are many people in Texas who are stopped and searched by police. Many will also be charged with crimes afterward. Being charged with a crime does not automatically mean that someone is guilty of the crime though and there may be defenses available to them. Experienced attorneys understand people’s rights and may be able to help protect them.