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When can the police look in my wallet, purse or bag?

Freedom and the right to privacy often go hand in hand. If a police officer attempts to look through your private personal belongings, what are your rights? Can you refuse?

Most times, the police cannot look in your wallet, purse or backpack without a warrant to do so. However, there are some exceptions to this. Here is what you need to know.

Protection from unreasonable searches and seizures

Usually, a police officer needs a special permission from a judge, known as a warrant, to look into your personal belongings. If an officer asks to see your bag, you can say you do not consent if they don’t have a warrant for the search. In most cases, a search without a warrant is illegal, as the U.S. Constitution guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. Additionally, evidence seized in an illegal search cannot be admitted in court.

What are the exceptions?

There are some situations where the police can conduct a search without a warrant. The law states that an officer can search your personal belongings, like your bag, backpack or purse, if they have reasonable cause to believe you have committed a crime. That means that they had enough evidence to suspect you committed a crime. For example, if you were driving recklessly or ran after seeing a police officer. The evidence must be substantial and not based on superstitions for the warrantless search to be legal.

A warrentless search may also be conducted if you consent to a search or if an item is within “plain view” of a police officer.

Upholding your rights

Everyone in the country has legal protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer searches your bag without a warrant, that search is likely unconstitutional. Because the exceptions to this are so dependent upon the circumstances, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can be critical.

We have experience with New Jersey’s criminal justice system and can help you if you have been a victim of an illegal search. You can schedule a free initial consultation with McGuire, Aziz & Associates by calling 732-704-7331 or sending an email.