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When can California police officers physically search someone?

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Those preparing to defend against criminal charges in California often need to consider many different strategies. Proving that someone has an alibi at the time of a specific criminal incident is one potential strategy. Raising questions about the possibility that someone else might be at fault for the matter could also help.

In some cases, a criminal defense attorney in California can prevent the prosecutor from presenting certain evidence during a criminal trial. The exclusion of some evidence could make a major difference in someone’s case and might even lead to the dismissal of their criminal charges.

Illegal searches are one of the top reasons that lawyers successfully prevent prosecutors from using certain evidence. A physical search of someone’s body could provide the state with compelling evidence. Yet, if a search is conducted unlawfully, any evidence collected as a result of these efforts could be withheld from trial. When can officers legally search someone?

There are federal rules about bodily searches

Decades ago, a criminal case from Ohio went all the way to the federal Supreme Court. The crux of the matter was whether or not law enforcement professionals violated someone’s rights by conducting a physical search of their person.

The practice of stopping and frisking people may place an unfair burden on people who live in certain neighborhoods or belong to certain racial groups. Police often target individuals in low-income or high-crime areas. They may also profile people based solely on their appearance and target them for a pat-down. Doing so could theoretically be a violation of someone’s rights.

According to crucial court rulings, police officers need to have a reasonable suspicion of a dangerous weapon on someone’s person to frisk them. They also need a reason to stop them and question them in the first place. Depending on the scenario that led to the encounter and the police officer’s justification for frisking or physically searching someone, what they found during that search may not be useful as evidence during a criminal trial.

Police officers cannot physically search someone simply because they suspect the presence of contraband or believe that the person may have committed a crime. They can stop someone to ask them to identify themselves when they believe criminal activity may be afoot. However, physically searching someone is usually only a legal option when the individual gives permission, the police officer suspects a weapon or there is probable cause to arrest them for criminal activity. As such, raising questions about the legality of a search could play a major role in someone’s defense against criminal charges.