Specific state and federal laws govern law enforcement’s ability to search and seize property.
If police seized your property without your consent, you should understand what constitutes lawful search and seizure and what does not.
What is a seizure?
Seizure is the step that follows a search. It refers to taking something or someone into custody or detaining someone temporarily. For example, when an officer pulls requires you to pull your vehicle off the road, that is a seizure.
What property can police seize?
According to Virginia criminal procedure, officers can lawfully search and seize the following:
- Stolen property
- Weapons used in the process of committing a crime
- A person with an arrest warrant
- Anything unlawful to sell or possess
- Any contents on a computer, network or electronic device containing digital information subject to lawful seizure
Protocol for search and seizure changes when items are in plain sight as opposed to when they are in private.
When are search and seizure lawful?
Police cannot seize property without probable cause, meaning they must have enough evidence to suggest criminal activity. Ultimately, there are only four situations where search and seizure are lawful. First, you can give the police permission to search. Next, they can have reasonable suspicion or criminal activity to search, or they have a warrant. Finally, officers can search or seize a person or property if there is a reason to believe in the possibility of destroying or moving evidence.
Often the most questionable component of a search and seizure is the argument for probable cause.