Searches For Criminal Suspects

Once police have probable cause, they can search a suspect and their immediate surroundings. This is known as a search incident to arrest.


They can also search a person’s phone or other personal possessions without a warrant. However, this method of searching a person’s privacy is controversial.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is a standard that police must meet before they can arrest someone, search their person or property, or seize anything related to the suspected crime. It limits the power of authorities to perform random or abusive searches and is intended to ensure maximum personal freedom for citizens. To have probable cause, an officer must have facts that a reasonable person would believe indicate that the suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime.

The evidence must be based on objective observations rather than subjective beliefs. For example, if an officer sees you driving erratically or swerving, they can pull you over and have probable cause to believe that you are intoxicated. The evidence could also come from an informant who gave the officer information or a witness testimony. In addition, the affidavit used to request the warrant should provide precise and accurate details about the place that is being searched as well as a description of the persons or things that are going to be searched.

It is important to remember that the judge has the final word on whether probable cause exists. An officer may be sincere in believing that the circumstances indicate probable cause, but if a judge examines the same facts and disagrees then there is no probable cause. This is why it is important to have a criminal defense attorney who can challenge the evidence that was presented by the government.

Stop and Frisk

A police officer can stop and search civilians if they have reasonable suspicion that the suspect is engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity. This search is called a stop and frisk. The Supreme Court ruled that police officers can legally do this in Terry v. Ohio in 1968. This decision gives police the right to briefly detain citizens and frisk them for weapons during an ongoing investigation. A frisk is a pat down of the exterior clothing. The frisk must be limited to what is necessary and it cannot be used as a fishing expedition for evidence. The Supreme Court also set limits on scope for the stop, meaning that it can only last a short period of time and it must be within reach.

However, since the stop and frisk policy was legalized by the Supreme Court, it has led to many cases of police misconduct. Often, the police abuse the power of this type of search to target certain groups and communities, such as Blacks and Latinos in New York City. In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union has reported that between 2003 and 2022, the NYPD stopped Blacks eight times more than whites.

When you are confronted by a police officer who is not following the guidelines of the Fourth Amendment, it is important that you ask two questions. First, why were you stopped and frisked? Second, was the police investigation connected to the reason you were stopped? The answers to these questions will determine whether the search violated your rights. If it did, then you can contact a criminal lawyer immediately to help you file a lawsuit against the police officer.

Protective Sweep

A protective sweep is an exception to the general rule that police officers need a warrant to search your person, vehicle or home. When a police officer makes an arrest at someone’s home, they can conduct a “protective sweep” of the area immediately around where the arrest is taking place to ensure that there are no other people on the premises who might threaten the officers’ safety.

A court will determine if the officers had good reason to believe that there might be other people in the house or elsewhere who might pose a threat to their safety, and whether the sweep was necessary for that reason. The search must be limited to a cursory inspection of places where a person might be hiding and must last no longer than needed to dispel the officers’ reasonable suspicion that danger might lurk there.

Solari: When you hear officers talking about a search they conducted after an arrest, they frequently use the term “protective sweep.” However, the law on this is very specific and differs slightly between jurisdictions. The most important point is that for a police officer to justify searching areas beyond the immediate vicinity of where they have made an arrest, there must be evidence suggesting that danger is lurking there.

For example, in the case of Miller, where the officers were arrested at a home and found a gun under the defendant’s bed, the court determined that the search did not qualify as a protective sweep because the officers did not have a good reason to believe that there was another person present who might attack them.


Once a suspect is in custody, police may search them and their belongings to ensure there are no weapons or drugs that could threaten officers or other people in the jail cell. In addition, personnel will run a background check to see if the suspect has any outstanding warrants for arrest in other cases.

If the officer finds something on a search warrant that isn’t listed in the items to be searched for and seized, they can keep it without any question. The only exception is if the item is illegal to possess or evidence of a crime.

In addition to the searches outlined above, suspects are subjected to strip searches upon entering the holding cell and may be subject to blood tests and X-rays in order to ensure they are not concealing anything from the police. They are also required to sign a confession of guilt or innocence.

If you believe the police are investigating you, it is important to understand your rights and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer can help you navigate your state’s specific laws to determine whether a search was reasonable. Additionally, you have a right to remain silent during questioning and the attorney can ensure that no incriminating statements are made. Invoking these rights could be critical to avoiding criminal charges in the future.