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When can California police officers lawfully search a home?

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Police officers have an interest in arresting people and gathering evidence that allows the state to prosecute their alleged wrongdoing. In some cases, they may even aggressively pursue evidence against those who may not have technically broken the law.

Once police officers gain access to someone’s house, they may search until they find certain what they think constitutes evidence. Items that seem perfectly innocent and benign to the occupant of the home might appear to connect them to criminal activity in the eyes of a police officer.

Searches of apartments and homes can yield evidence that leads to someone’s arrest and criminal prosecution. When can police officers in California lawfully search a private residence?

After obtaining permission

The average person feels nervous when dealing with law enforcement professionals. Still, they likely do their best to be respectful and appropriate. For example, they likely try to be polite and to comply with the requests of an officer. When police officers show up at a private residence asking to talk to someone or come inside to look around, most people may open the door to them. Police officers count on that compliance and may try to talk their way into someone’s house. Once they have permission, they could leverage what they find inside as an excuse to continue searching.

In cases where they have probable cause

Probable cause means a reasonable suspicion of a specific type of criminal activity. A movie playing on the television might give an officer probable cause to suspect a person in distress inside an apartment, for example. The smell of drugs or limited visual information available through a window could give an officer the justification that they need to enter and search a private residence. In some cases, the pursuit of a criminal from another location could also lead to police officers accessing and searching private property.

After securing a warrant

Sometimes, police officers have strong suspicions and enough detail related to those suspicions to convince a judge that a crime may have occurred. Judges can issue warrants granting police officers permission to search private property in a variety of different scenarios.

People who understand when the police can – and cannot – lawfully conduct a search can better identify violations of their rights. They may also have an easier time asserting themselves when interacting with police officers. Illegal searches could potentially influence a criminal defense strategy for someone facing charges. Learning the rules related to police searches can benefit those who are subjected to an investigation and/or who are facing criminal charges.