Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. But what makes a search unreasonable? Generally, an officer may not search you or your property for evidence of a crime without probable cause to do so.

Defining probable cause

If a Missouri police officer is going to search you, your home, or your personal property for evidence of a crime, they must have a legitimate reason to do so. While this seems like common sense, many people have gotten arrested and charged with crimes based on evidence obtained during a search by law enforcement that was unwarranted.

Requiring law enforcement officials to have probable cause to conduct a search is one way to protect our civil rights. Probable cause refers to that ‘legitimate reason’ required for the search. In order for an officer to have probable cause, they must have a reasonable belief, based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time, that a crime has been committed, is in the process of being committed, or will be committed in the near future.

A judge will issue a search warrant if the officer successfully shows that probable cause exists based on the ‘totality of the circumstances.’ However, while a search warrant is not required in every situation, probable cause must always exist for the search to be legal.

What happens if a search is unlawful?

Evidence obtained during an unlawful search is not admissible in court. If you are facing criminal charges as a result of an unlawful search, your attorney can help suppress the evidence obtained during the search. If the evidence is determined to be inadmissible, it is possible that the prosecutor will not be able to go forward with their case and will drop the charges against you.