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When can an officer search my property?

If there is suspicion of illegal drug possession or distribution, officers may want to search your property to find evidence that will help their case. However, they cannot just conduct searches whenever they want to. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures in places where a legitimate expectation of privacy exists. Your potential drug possession conviction may rest on whether you were the victim of an illegal search and seizure.

In order to determine whether there is a legitimate expectation of privacy, courts will consider whether the person subjectively expected the place or thing to be private and whether that expectation was objectively reasonable. For example, search and seizure of drug paraphernalia on the front lawn will likely be legal as it is clearly visible to the public and no one would reasonably expect that area to be private.

In other words, searches by government actors are only allowed if they meet certain requirements. Many reasonable searches require a search warrant from a judge based on probable cause. A search without a warrant may be permitted under certain conditions.

However, if a government official conducts an illegal search, the exclusionary rule prohibits the evidence collected during that search from being used at trial. Also, the evidence from an illegal search cannot be used to aid in the discovery of any new evidence. While the evidence cannot be used to convict the defendant, it could be used to attack their credibility or help judges determine a sentence after the conviction.

If a Virginia officer conducted an illegal search and seizure of your property, evidence collected may be thrown out and your drug charges may be reduced or dismissed altogether. You may want to consult an attorney to discuss a defense strategy based on the illegal search.

Source: FindLaw, "Search Warrant Requirements," accessed on August 22, 2016

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