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Reasonable and unreasonable searches and seizures

Your body, property and home are your possessions but there are times when police officers have the right to frisk, seek and take those things. A Wisconsin police officer may not conduct a search unless the action is justified. "Justified" is not a matter of opinion.

The U.S. Constitution protects individuals from "unreasonable searches," but it is important to understand the legal meaning of a search before getting wrapped up in it's fairness. A search occurs when an individual has expectations of privacy and the public at large would concur those feelings are sensible. No search has been conducted when privacy expectations and society's general support are missing.

Protocol must be followed in police search and seizure operations or authorities can be forced to shelve evidence crucial to obtaining a conviction. Consequently, police typically get permission from a judge to conduct the search and seize whatever evidence officers can find that's relevant to a suspected crime. A judge or magistrate must be convinced officers have a good reason to believe a crime was committed and supporting evidence is forthcoming before issuing a search warrant.

Police powers expand with a warrant in hand. The property owner's permission to search is unnecessary, but officers must search only within the boundaries set by the warrant – for example, the kitchen is out of bounds for a marijuana search unless the room is in the warrant. Search rules are permitted to bend when officers see illegal drugs in plain sight, try to stop evidence destruction, act to preserve safety or have a strong suspicion more evidence is located in off-limits areas.

Defendants are wise to know their rights before allegations are leveled at them. Even when those rights aren't clear to defendants accused of drug crimes, criminal defense attorneys are available to protect and advise them. A lawyer will investigate the possibility of an illegal search and seizure.

Source: FIndLaw, "Illegal Search and Seizure FAQs," accessed June 12, 2015

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