Search and Seizure Laws in New York and the United States

While the Constitutions of both the United States and New York protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, there are several exceptions to this rule. These include searches of people, cars and homes that occur incident to arrest.


If you are questioned by the police, remember that you have the right to remain silent and speak with an attorney immediately. The attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro regularly evaluate RAS and PC issues in a variety of criminal cases.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is more than a hunch but less than probable cause, the legal standard used to justify arrests and search warrants. Law enforcement officers must be able to articulate specific, articulable facts to support their suspicions. They do not need to be 100% certain that criminal activity is occurring or may occur but must be reasonably convinced that it is, Black’s Law Dictionary notes.

Officers can use reasonable suspicion to stop and briefly detain individuals in the course of their duties, but this does not give them permission to search a suspect’s property. They must have either a search warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion to do so.

When evaluating whether an officer had reasonable suspicion, courts consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident. A person’s actions and observances must be considered in order to determine reasonable suspicion, as well as whether a police officer would also believe that criminal activity is afoot. This means that a person’s quick exit from a parking lot, driving through an area known for burglaries and displaying nervous behavior are unlikely to constitute reasonable suspicion.

A qualified Criminal Defense Attorney can review the facts of your case and see whether an officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct a search. If they did, we can then evaluate whether the evidence gathered was properly obtained or not.

Exigent Circumstances

In some situations, law enforcement officers may be allowed to dispense with the warrant requirement in order to perform a search. These are called exigent circumstances. They typically refer to cases where a suspect is about to escape and evidence could be destroyed. They also apply in cases where a person is threatening to harm someone or destroy property.

Police officers who believe that exigent circumstances exist must be able to articulate what those facts are on a case-by-case basis to convince a court that they did not violate the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. This includes demonstrating that they did not create the exigent circumstance themselves through their own actions. For example, in a drug investigation, police officers waited for a suspected drug dealer to come out of his apartment. Then they knocked on the door and announced that they were there in order to conduct a search. They feared that other conspirators were still inside the home and that they might destroy evidence. This was not a valid use of the exigent circumstance exception.

Police officers have a legal right to search a suspect’s house or vehicle without a warrant if they can show that there are exigent circumstances in the situation. These circumstances may involve protecting the suspect from a threat, preventing the destruction of evidence or rescuing an injured or unconscious person. However, these circumstances must be based on objective factors rather than on the officer’s subjective motivation.


A search warrant must be specific and describe the place to be searched with particularity. It should also be signed by a “neutral and detached magistrate or judge.” A search warrant is only valid if it is limited to the area within which the officer can safely pursue a suspect. If the search is too broad, it will be illegal.

Protective Search (pat-down or frisk): This is a warrantless search in which police officers run their hands lightly over a suspect’s outer clothing to check for concealed weapons. It must only be conducted when the officers have reasonable suspicion that there is a danger to public safety and cannot wait for a search warrant. Search Incident to Arrest: This is a warrantless search that occurs during or immediately after a lawful arrest and can include the person’s immediate surroundings. The scope of the search is limited to where an attacker might gain possession of a weapon or destroy evidence.

Administrative searches that need not require a warrant are vehicle or roadblock searches, factory or inventory searches, detention of a traveler or cause of fire searches. They can only be performed by government officials such as police officers or firepersons and must be based on public interest, not personal suspicion of a crime.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is more than just suspicion or even a hunch. It is the legal standard that police officers must meet before they can search a person or property or arrest them. It is generally considered a higher hurdle than reasonable suspicion, but lower than proof beyond a reasonable doubt or the preponderance of evidence. Probable cause is based on the totality of the circumstances and means that a “prudent officer” would have believed that a crime had been committed or was being committed.

Probable causes may be derived from directly observing evidence that suggests criminal activity, or they may be based on reliable reports from other law enforcement officials or trusted sources. The affidavit establishing probable cause must state the facts so closely related to the time of the warrant that they justify finding probable cause at that time.

If the court finds that the police searched you or your property without probable cause, any evidence they obtained could be thrown out of the case. To protect your rights and ensure that the evidence in your case is valid, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you get an experienced attorney on your side, the better chance of proving that the search was illegal and that your constitutional rights were violated.