Criminal Suspect Searches

Criminal suspect searches are often based on probable cause. However, the Constitution of the United States and State of New York protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.


While being questioned, it is important to remain silent because anything you say could be used against you later. Police also conduct a background check to see if you have outstanding warrants.

Reasonable Suspicion

The Constitution requires that police have a search warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion before they can stop you and conduct a search of your person or property. If an officer stops you and searches your outer clothing without having either of these, it is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

While the Supreme Court has not defined a specific definition of reasonable suspicion, it is required that it be more than a hunch or intuition. It can be formed by a combination of particular facts that, when taken together, make it obvious to a reasonable person that you are engaged in criminal activity or about to engage in a crime.

A person wearing dark clothing and acting nervously, for instance, may raise an officer’s suspicion of drug use. So, too, would a person standing in front of a store carrying boxes out the back door and stacking them next to a dumpster at 3pm on a Saturday when that store is not open for business.

While this is a low standard, it can still lead to detention and frisks without the benefit of evidence from a search. This is why it is important to comply with officers’ questions and frisks and then tell them that you have the right to leave if they do not have further evidence of wrongdoing. If you have been stopped and searched by police, contact a criminal defense lawyer today. We can review the circumstances of your case and determine if you were stopped under reasonable suspicion.

Stop and Frisk

Stop and Frisk is a policing tactic that allows police to stop people, search them for weapons, and ask where they are going in an attempt to prevent crime. It is a controversial method of law enforcement that has been the subject of several class action lawsuits and has been linked to racial profiling. If you have been stopped by police and searched, contact a criminal lawyer immediately to discuss your rights and options.

The Supreme Court determined that stop and frisk is constitutional if certain conditions are met in the 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio. In order for the search to be legal, officers must have a reasonable suspicion that there is illegal activity taking place or about to take place. This suspicion must be based on specific, articulable facts, such as the person making furtive movements or looking like they are concealing a weapon.

The officer should only pat down the outer clothing of the suspect, and not look under their clothes or into their pockets. It is also important that the officer respects the person’s gender. If the officer is unsure of the suspect’s gender, they should politely and respectfully ask the person. If they still do not know, then the officer should request a supervisor to respond to the scene prior to searching the suspect, unless doing so jeopardizes their safety or that of the suspect.

Search Incident to Arrest

Search Incident to Arrest is a legal procedure that allows law enforcement officers to search a person and their immediate surroundings without a warrant, ensuring officer safety and evidence preservation. It is one of only a small number of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

During a search incident to arrest, police may check an individual’s body for weapons and other contraband. They also have the right to search their immediate vicinity, such as the area within reach when they are arrested or any containers carried on their person at the time of the arrest. This search is also permitted inside a vehicle that the suspect was driving when they were being searched.

This search can be conducted even if the suspect committed an offense that normally results in a citation instead of a formal arrest. However, there must be reasonable cause to believe that the suspect is armed or may use items in their immediate control to aid in escape from custody. The scope of the search is also limited to areas that are within the suspect’s immediate control at the time of the arrest, such as pockets or clothing and the contents of any bags or containers they carry on them.

The court’s reasoning is that an individual has a reduced expectation of privacy once they are arrested and that the officers have a strong interest in disarming suspects and preserving evidence during the custodial process. However, the search should be reasonable and it cannot extend beyond booking, as this could violate the suspect’s rights to a fair trial.

Search Incident to Booking

When an individual is arrested for a crime and taken into custody by police officers, the suspect will usually undergo a search incident to arrest. This may occur at the scene of the crime or when the suspect is being transported to jail and is being searched once again prior to entering their booking process (called processing in some jurisdictions).

When the police officer searches a person at the time of an arrest, the court must apply the same standards of scrutiny that would be applied if the search were performed as a separate warrantless activity. A warrantless search of a person or their belongings following an arrest can be permissible when the police officer has a valid reason to believe that there is evidence related to the crime for which the suspect is being arrested.

The court has held that if a person is handcuffed or otherwise restrained during the search, the scope of the search can be limited to what would be reasonably accessible for a person in those circumstances. For example, if a person is handcuffed and sitting in a vehicle and the police are attempting to search the vehicle for drugs or weapons, it will be very difficult for the Court to find that this search does not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the arrestee.