When you get arrested, it sure seems like the police can do whatever they want with you and your property—even if it’s in your own home.

But that’s not the case. The law does give the police a long leash, but it’s still a leash. And while they can press charges for evidence found on you or around you at arrest, they’ve still got to prove a key fact, or your case could be dismissed.

Let’s look at the basis, limits, and prime defense of arrest searches. One thing you’ll notice—this is complicated legal stuff. You’ll need a professional defense attorney to analyze and dissect the state’s case against you, and to give you the best shot at a good outcome.

And this article doesn’t cover a car search if you get arrested at a traffic stop. That’s different, because the tiniest facts can make the biggest difference in these cases.

Legal Reasons for Arrest Searches

The two main reasons for arrest searches are no surprise: to protect officer safety and prevent concealment or destruction of evidence.

Officers deserve safety in doing their job, even if we disagree how they do it in your case. A gun on a nearby table threatens officers because they don’t know you won’t grab it and shoot them. The same holds true for searching you: they don’t know if you have a knife in your pocket to slash them, so they can search it to protect themselves.

Limits on Arrest Searches

It’s still unconstitutional for police to take these searches too far. These are the basic limits:

  • Where they can search. Officers can search you and the area near enough to you where you could grab a weapon or hide evidence.
  • When they can search. The search must be around the same time as your arrest. But it can be right before it, or even not until you get to the jail for booking.

The Prime Defense

To convict you for evidence found at arrest, the arrest must be a legal one. If not, arrest search evidence can be thrown out by a judge and the case dismissed.

Proving officers had no legal justification to arrest you is no easy task. It involves highly technical knowledge of constitutional law and legal skills to carefully align the evidence with the law to make a convincing case.

And a lot may ride on this defense. If your criminal defense attorney can show a prosecutor or a judge the police had no probable cause to arrest you, your case might get dismissed or you might get a plea deal you can live with.

Too Much Is at Stake to Give Up…or to “Hope For The Best”

Even if you think you have no defense, remember you’re not a lawyer. And it’s the guilty who often benefit the most from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your freedom and reputation are at stake. And hope won’t get you far if you don’t do something to achieve it.

If you wonder whether you got arrested legally and can win your case, or you’re afraid you’re hopelessly guilty, call us at (888) 230-1841 for a free meeting to map out a strategy for the best possible outcome for you.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.