The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures, although you often need to know to assert your rights. Police officers often try to find ways around rules about searches, such as asking for permission when they don’t otherwise have a reason to conduct a search.
The court system constantly explores and clarifies the Fourth Amendment. There are different rules that apply to different sorts of searches and property seizures, and understanding the rules for different searches will empower you to better handle an interaction with law enforcement.
For example, during a traffic stop or when a police officer stops you while you are out in public, they may want to search your body, a process that involves patting you down or frisking you. When can a police officer frisk you like that without your permission?
When they suspect a weapon
Typically, the main justification an officer uses for a pat-down search is that they suspected the person might have a concealed weapon. Officers can check someone over the clothing based on their suspicions that there could be a weapon present. If they find other illegal items during that search, those discoveries could justify the decision to continue searching.
When they have probable cause or arrest you
Sometimes, a search of a person’s body will require that an officer has them remove all their clothing. Such searches are more invasive and typically require easily-explainable probable cause or that a police officer has placed someone under arrest. These kinds of invasive searches are common in the intake procedure when someone goes into state custody.
Knowing your rights can help you protect yourself from inappropriate police behavior and help you plan to defend against criminal charges.