The Law of Search and Seizure: Private Police


In the United States, evidence gathered unlawfully must be excluded from criminal trials in both state and federal courts. In general search, and seizure are procedures used by law enforcement personnel to gather enough evidence to apprehend and prosecute an accused. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution governs law enforcement officers’ searches and seizures. It safeguards individuals’ private rights from overreaching government interference (Lazar, 2019). Nonetheless, the law of search and seizure related to private police is not well understood, and thus the need to explore this in detail. In general, private security entities are governed by the same search and seizure law as with state and federal police.

The Fourth Amendment Safeguards

Fourth Amendment safeguards are limited to commodities and settings where a person has a reasonable assumption of privacy. A court must evaluate subjective and objective assumptions when establishing their existence (Marinotti, 2021). This implies that it must determine if the individual anticipated privacy or a rational individual might anticipate privacy. When an object or place is visible, the assumption of privacy is ruled out. However, there might be a substantial assumption of privacy at an individual’s house or in an area considered private by society, like a washroom.

The Exclusionary Rule

Two basic judicial principles might arise when a search or seizure breaches the Fourth Amendment. The first is what is referred to as the exclusionary rule. According to the law, any evidence collected by an unlawful search or seizure cannot be used against an accused in criminal prosecution (Turner & Weigend, 2019). Rather than relying on the Court to automatically omit this evidence, the defendant or counsel will need to file a request to suppress it. Because the prosecution often relies mainly on evidence obtained during the search to support its case, a successful petition to suppress might result in the case being dismissed entirely.

Allowing a criminal to avoid blame for an offense they perpetrated due to a procedural mistake may seem contradictory. The argument for the exclusionary rule is that the authorities would have the motive to conduct unlawful searches and seizures if they could present the evidence nonetheless. This would jeopardize the privacy of many individuals as specific prohibitions to the exclusionary rule also restrict its reach (Ferguson, 2019). As with most legal laws, the exclusionary rule is subject to exceptions. For example, unless a specific state has determined otherwise, the exclusionary rule typically does not apply to breaches of the knock-notice rule.

The implications of the relationship on private security entities were affirmed in Burdeau v. McDowell. Private investigators broke into the defendant’s workplace and blasted up a safe at a former employee’s request. According to the trial, the Supreme Court submitted the documents because the evidence reveals that no federal government representative was involved in the unjust seizure of the plaintiff’s possessions (Blizard, 2017). Essentially, the Supreme Court concluded that the fourth amendment does not govern searches or seizures in the context of private groups. It also reiterated that the exclusionary rule did not restrict evidence collected from such situations and surrendered to the government.

The Court created one of the first exclusions to the exclusionary rule in Weeks v. the United States. It was decided that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment where no federal official was involved in the improper seizure of an individual’s property or had any knowledge of it until many months later (Legal Information Institute, 2021). Furthermore, the Court concluded that the state might maintain such documents after being given over to the government by the private people who purchased them as evidence in the criminal prosecution of their owner.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The second central ideology in the search and seizure context applies to the law’s evidence obtained from unlawfully seized evidence. Additionally, this proof is inadmissible against the plaintiff under the doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree (Lemley, 2017). The tree represents unconstitutionally seized evidence, and the fruit represents the evidence obtained as a result of it. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine does not apply in cases where police forces would have discovered the incriminating material.

Additionally, suppose a police officer does not have a valid basis to stop and search individuals but discovers one during the encounter. In that case, the evidence they discover may be acceptable in certain circumstances. However, Soltero (2021) acknowledges that an exemption for defendants who offer voluntary testimony without Miranda warnings can be considered. While the remarks themselves cannot be accepted due to the Miranda breach, the proof produced from the statements may.

If a person knowingly consents to a search, notwithstanding if or not the police obtain a warrant, the search is constitutionally permissible. The authorization will describe the extent of the search, including a search of a residence, a vehicle, or a person’s body. If the police discover anything illegal during the search, it might be introduced into evidence during the trial (Abbey & Keasler, 2016). Occasionally, a person will agree to a search only to withdraw their permission after the search has begun. Revocation of consent may be conceivable if specific conditions are satisfied.

Principally, one must clearly and unequivocally revoke their consent. This can be done verbally or physically, but it must be evident. Individuals have the option of expressly stating that they are withdrawing their authorization, but this is not mandatory (Abbey & Keasler, 2016). The mere mention of an inconvenience or the fact that the search takes excessive time does not demonstrate that individuals are withdrawing their statements. If one successfully withdraws their permission, the officer is required to cease the search immediately (Soltero, 2021). Anything discovered after permission has been withdrawn is unlikely to be used against them unless there is an exemption to the warrant requirement in that situation.

Physical movements indicative of withdrawal include an officer’s hands being removed from an object being searched or reclaiming an item from an officer holding it. On the other hand, physically revoking approval may provide some considerable difficulties. It may be more challenging to convey withdrawal effectively, and various courts have varying criteria for the amount of physical activity required to revoke permission (Soltero, 2021). Additionally, when one makes physical contact with the police, they risk a conflict and maybe an arrest. Therefore, if feasible, one should revoke approval verbally. Occasionally, a person may withdraw consent for just a portion of the search. In other words, people may limit the search to a specific region or set of things. As is the case with a general withdrawal of permission, any restriction on consent to a search must be disclosed clearly.

An individual’s agreement to a search is no longer revocable in some circumstances. Most of the time, they will not be able to withdraw their agreement when a law enforcement officer discovers incriminating proof. This evidence may be used against such individuals, and its finding may be used to get a warrant to conduct a more extensive search without their consent. A person may not be allowed to withdraw their agreement to a search in highly controlled locations such as airports and prisons (Abbey & Keasler, 2016). For example, security checks at airports can typically not be stopped in the middle of the procedure. If one is being inspected during a prison visit, they are not allowed to halt it in the middle of it since the prison officials will have told them ahead of time that they would be inspected.

Assent to a Search of a Person’s Residence in a Criminal Case

Without a warrant, police officers are unlikely to search a residence under the Fourth Amendment unless an exemption exists. The person consenting needs not to have complete control over the possessions to permit the police to search a portion of it (Abbey & Keasler, 2016). For instance, a roomie may agree to search their portion of the residence. They cannot agree to search another roomie’s personal belongings if they are not allowed access (Abbey & Keasler, 2016). However, if many roommates are physically present and do not agree to a search, the police may be unable to search at all.

Similarly, the principal occupant of a residence may approve, but their permission cannot extend to areas managed by a visitor or occupant and not accessible to the primary resident. Bellin (2019) asserts that a homeowner cannot offer legitimate approval for searching a guest’s items on the premises. Nevertheless, even if visitors do not reside in the house, they may offer legitimate authorization to search places they control. However, they cannot offer legal approval to search places managed by the principal residence or locations they lack authority. Occasionally, it is not easy to discern who manages certain portions or whether someone has access to the whole property (Hobbie, 2020)). The authorities will benefit from the doubt if there is a fundamental belief that the individual who consented to the search had access to the locations searched.

Car Searches in Criminal Investigations

A standard traffic stop will lead to the summoning of the driver and the driver’s release, but police have the authority to prolong the stop if a lawful reason exists. They may search the driver’s car for a lengthy period. If the police do not have a valid cause for the stop, for instance, no proof of a traffic infraction or crime, the search is illegal (Chanin et al., 2018). This implies that the motorist cannot be charged with a crime based on the evidence obtained during the stop. Even if the police have a reasonable cause for stopping the car, searching it may be illegal if the police have no cause to suspect the driver is threatening or is engaged in a crime other than the traffic infraction for which the summons was issued.

Halting a vehicle by traffic police does not necessarily mean the officers will search it. This notion was tested for rental vehicle drivers who were not on the lease agreement. Although these drivers are not permitted, courts have determined that the lack of a rental agreement does not warrant a search (Rozacky & Keasler, 2019). Even unlicensed rental car drivers have the right to privacy in their vehicles. The only persons who do not expect privacy in an automobile are those who have stolen it. If a police officer is arresting a motorist rather than giving a ticket, they may have additional leeway in searching.

State law may occasionally allow an arrest for a traffic infraction that typically leads to a warning. Police may be allowed to check the vehicle’s passenger compartment after this sort of arrest (Boldt, 2018). Officers must suspect that the driver may get access to the location during the search. The car included evidence of a crime, evidence relating to the traffic infraction, firearms, or anything else that the driver could have used to escape the cops. Police will have no cause to assume that a motorist who has been handcuffed and put outside their car will have access to the vehicle. The search must be limited to places that may reasonably be anticipated to contain the objects the officer is searching for.

Overall, if the police arrest the driver and do a pat-down during which they discover evidence of a crime, they will undoubtedly examine the car. Legitimately, police checkpoints when officers stop and examine cars and vehicles, exercise must be nondiscriminatory and directly tied to traffic safety. For instance, an officer cannot merely stop and search a driver because he is African American. Even with these two constraints in place, the rationale for a checkpoint may remain extremely wide. Nonetheless, it is important to note that certain states apply stricter limits.


Police enforcement has the power to undertake justifiable searches and seizures. A search or seizure is justified if the authorities obtain a court-issued order premised on sufficient grounds to think a person perpetrated a crime. Additionally, a search with no warrant can be justified in some instances. Americans are not protected by the Fourth Amendment against searches by private security, except if they operate for or conjunction with law enforcement officers. For example, suppose a park security guard searches T’s rucksack based on a sheer intuition. The guard discovers a package carrying an illicit substance within the rucksack. The guard has the authority to hold T, contact the authorities, and give the substance to a law enforcement officer. The substance is admissible in court since the inspection was done independently of the police by a private security agent.

The Fourth Amendment’s search-and-seizure clauses are entirely concerned with privacy. To safeguard this liberty, the Amendment prohibits federal and state law police officials from conducting “irrational” inspections and confiscations. Overall, unless a special exemption exists, the majority of unreasonable searches of private places are unconstitutional per the Fourth Amendment. For example, a warrantless search could be legal if a policeman requests and obtains agreement to search; if the check is incidental to a valid detention. Likewise, if there is reasonable suspicion for search and an urgent situation necessitating a warrantless search. Urgent conditions happen when individuals are in immediate danger, evidence is about to be destroyed, or a culprit is about to flee.


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