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What Can Police Search in MA?

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Attorney Jason Chan

244 Brighton Avenue, Suite 105
Allston MA 02134


Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: (617) 254-8001

The constitution of the United States gives people many different rights.  One of the  rights that every person has is against unreasonable search and seizure.  The constitution is supposed to protect each person from being searched and or seized by police for no reason. Now the constitution is just words on a piece of paper and from a practical stand point it doesn’t physically stop the police from illegally searching any individual.  This is where the court comes in.  If the court finds that a search was illegal, then the court could suppress any evidence that was found during the illegal search. 

The constitution was written over 200 years ago in old colonial times.  This means that the forefather’s really didn’t consider many things that we have today.  For example, 200 years ago we didn’t have cars, phones, or the internet.  Therefore, our forefather’s next covered whether searching a person’s cell phone would be in violation of a person’s constitutional rights. As a result, courts try to interpret the constitution and try to apply it to the issues that we have today.  So under the constitution what is the police allowed to search?  The answer is that it largely depends on the circumstances, however, the court has been pretty clear in some areas. 

police search

One of the clear examples of things that the police are allowed to search is license plates.  For the most part, the police are allowed to approach any license plate and punch it into the computer to find out more about the car.  The court reasons that a license plate is displayed in public and that a driver would have no expectation of privacy over the license plate.  Therefore, the court has ruled on several occasions that a license plate being written down or entered into a computer by the police is allowed and not a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. 

Conversely, the court has ruled that body invasion generally constitutes a violation of a person’s constitutional rights.  Therefore, the police would not be allowed to take a blood sample without a warrant or court order. The court reasons that a person has a right to privacy regarding one’s blood.  Moreover, in order to retrieve that blood a needle would need to invade a person’s body.  The court has ruled similarly to the police attempting to obtain a DNA sample without a court order.  In collecting DNA the police usually use a buccal swab. Essentially, the police use something that looks like a large Q-Tip. The process entails putting the swab in the suspect’s mouth and rubbing it against the inside of the person’s cheek.  The court has ruled on several occasions that a person has a high right to privacy regarding his or her own body.  This means that police may not retrieve blood samples or DNA samples without first getting a search warrant or a court order. 

So there are the two extremes.  First, you have things that are in the open such as license plates that generally the police are allowed to search.  Then you have a person’s own body on the other spectrum that would usually require a search warrant for the evidence to be allowed. The rest of things the searches and seizures are not so clear cut.  There are thousands if not millions of car searches that happen every year.  Now there is no clear cut rule on whether the police are allowed to search a car. Many drug cases start with the police searching a car. For the most part, the court has ruled that a person has less of an expectation to privacy in a car then if they were at home.  This means that it is harder for the police to search a person’s house without a warrant than for the police to search a person’s car without a warrant.  Generally, when it comes to searching a car, the court will look at a number of different factors to see if the police had a right to search the car.  If the court finds that a person’s constitutional rights were violated as a result of the search, the evidence that was found will be suppressed.  If the court finds that a person’s constitutional rights were not violated as a result of the search, the court will allow the prosecutor to continue to use the evidence. 

 The constitution of the United States gives people many different rights.  One of the rights that every person has is against unreasonable search and seizure.  The constitution is supposed to protect each person from being searched and or seized by police for no reason. Now the constitution is just words on a piece of paper and from a practical stand point it doesn’t physically stop the police from illegally searching any individual.  This is where the court comes in.  If the court finds that a search was illegal, then the court could suppress any evidence that was found during the illegal search.  


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