Dirk Padgett Law PLLC
Former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney / Former Military Prosecutor / Former Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney

Upcoming case could redefine what is considered a legal search

People have constitutional rights that protect them from unlawful searches and seizures. Typically, the police must have a search warrant in order to search a person or their property.

A recent Supreme Court case from here in Virginia brings into question what types of searches that the Fourth Amendment permits. The court's ruling could have important ramifications when determining whether police officers are conducting legal searches going forward.

Collins v. Virginia

The case in question, Collins v. Virginia, seeks to answer the question whether the police can search a car on private property without a warrant.

In this case, Virginia police entered Mr. Collins’s property to look for a suspected stolen motorcycle. Police entered his property without a warrant and discovered the motorcycle in question under a tarp.

This case brings two competing Fourth Amendment issues to the forefront. On the one hand, a person's home has the highest constitutional protection. On the other hand, motor vehicles have less protection because there may be illegal property inside.

Balancing these two competing interests will be the biggest issue the Supreme Court will need to decide.

Can police ever conduct a search without a warrant?

While it is generally true that the police need a warrant to conduct a search, there are exceptions that you should be aware of:

  • Probable cause: While a warrant requires probable cause, officers may still conduct a search without a warrant. However, they must demonstrate that the probable cause existed after the fact.
  • Vehicles: Police officers may search a vehicle without a warrant if they see something or smell something that they believe to be an illegal substance. They may also search the vehicle if they have probable cause.

If the police try to conduct a search of your property, it is important to decline and request that they get a warrant. If you believe your constitutional rights were violated during a search, speaking with a skilled attorney can help you identify what your options are going forward.

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Throughout Mr. Padgett's career, he has worked on cases covering a wide variety of offenses, from white collar crime and larceny to war crimes and capital murder. In 2009, he served as lead prosecutor in the trial of Ibrahim al Qosi, an al Qaeda member and bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, at Guantanamo Bay Prison.

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