A lot of people are under the impression that the police always need a warrant to search people or their property. This is false. In fact, the vast majority of police searches in Missouri and across the U.S. are conducted without a warrant.
According to the University of Michigan Law School, at least an astonishing 95% of all police searches are conducted absent a warrant. Part of the reason for this is that far more vehicles are searched than homes, and the law makes it much easier for police to search vehicles.
The police often take full advantage of this, and when they want to search someone’s car, there are numerous ways they can justify it. The easiest way the police can search someone’s vehicle is simply asking for consent. A staggering number of people give the police permission to search when asked even when they have something to hide.
If the police are unable to get an individual’s consent, they can search if they have probable cause. Probable cause is tricky; the police use that to their advantage as well. Probable cause is defined as “sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime.” A clever police officer can find probable cause under every rock.
Because the legitimacy of searches is such a gray area, the validity of a given search is one of the most contested things in criminal court. Anyone arrested or charged with a crime as a result of a warrantless search should contact an experienced attorney who can determine whether his or her civil rights were violated. If it turns out they were, a judge might rule any evidence obtained as inadmissible, and the state could dismiss the case.