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What is a reasonable search?

Do you think that the Fourth Amendment protects you from searches and seizures? This is a common misconception. While the Fourth Amendment does offer protections, it just says that the police can't carry out unreasonable searches and seizures. So, what is a reasonable search?

There are two main types of reasonable searches. The first is pretty straightforward. If the police get a warrant, that means it's a reasonable search. The warrant is the court's way of saying that they've looked at it and deemed it to be reasonable.

The second type of search is a bit more open-ended, and can therefore be problematic. Essentially, if the situation makes it clear that a search needs to be done without a warrant, the police may have the right to carry out that search.

A common example cited is when the police make an arrest and then search the person to see if he or she has a weapon. This is deemed reasonable because the police had cause to make the arrest, and they need to check for weapons to ensure their own safety. After all, it would take far too long to get a warrant for such a simple search.

Another example is when something is clearly visible to the public. This can come into play when evidence of a crime is found outside and seized without a warrant. The basic idea here is that something in plain view wasn't meant to be private, anyway, so police don't need a warrant for what they can see.

As you can imagine, these lines can be more gray than black and white, which is why it's important to understand the Fourth Amendment and your rights.

Source: FindLaw, "Search Warrant Requirements," accessed March 18, 2016

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