Depending on your prior interactions with law enforcement, you may have a profound respect for officers, a healthy suspicion or, possibly, a bit of both. Whatever feelings you may have toward Virginia law enforcement, you understand they have authority. Still, it is also important to remember that their authority only reaches so far.

Law enforcement officers do not have freedom to do whatever they please whenever they want to do it. For instance, even if officers suspect you of illegal activity, they typically cannot barge into your home to conduct a search for evidence. They must follow certain procedures and have valid cause for carrying out a search.

When can officers search?

You may have a hard time determining when you have to allow officers to search your property. You may think you have to agree to a search if asked, or you may think you have to comply with an officer’s order to allow a search. However, if an officer does not have a warrant and simply asks to search your home, you can refuse. Your home is considered an area where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Of course, officers may search areas that do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as your trash sitting out on the curb, and they do not need a warrant to do so. Additionally, officers may conduct a search without a warrant and without your permission if special circumstances exist, such as believing that someone is in immediate danger or that another emergency-type situation is underway.

What about illegal search and seizure?

Certainly, some officers may act outside the bounds of their authority and could violate your Fourth Amendment rights. If this happens and you have evidence that officers did not follow protocol for the search and seizure, any evidence the officers obtained may be inadmissible in court. You may understandably worry that you would not recognize misbehavior on the part of an officer, but you could address your concerns with someone knowledgeable in such areas.

Working with a criminal defense attorney could allow you to voice your concerns over any officer’s actions and gain reliable information as to whether that officer acted out of order. Legal counsel could also thoroughly assess all actions leading up to the search and your arrest to determine whether any wrongdoing that could affect your case occurred.