When is it Legal for the Police to Search My Home or Car in Missouri?

Kimberly2 1Author:

Kimberly J. Benjamin, Founder & Managing Attorney

What Does the Law Say About Police Search?

 The Fourth Amendment prohibits forms of unreasonable searches and seizures from the police except under “probable cause.” Without a search warrant, the police do not have any right to conduct searches and seizures in most cases in Missouri.If the police obtain evidence during an illegal search, they cannot use it against you in a criminal case. For assistance determining if your rights have been violated during a search, you may need the services and legal know-how of a Missouri lawyer. 

What is a Search Warrant?

 The law of Missouri (RSMo 542.266) defines a search warrant as a court order to search or inspect a person or their property and seize specific property. By law, an appellate judge or any judge in Missouri’s jurisdiction can issue a search warrant.Under the law (RSMo. 542.271), a judge may issue a search warrant for any of the following:

  • Evidence of a crime: a substance, article, or material
  • Crime-related property
  • Contraband (i.e., controlled substances, unlawful firearms, etc.)
  • Drug-making property
  • Cases of kidnapping 
  • A person wanted for a felony arrest warrant

If police conduct a warrantless search, the defendant must be brought before a judge to determine probable cause. 

What Does Probable Cause Mean?

 A judge may find probable cause if there’s reason to believe a crime was committed or the police found evidence of a crime. The Fourth Amendment protects US citizens and residents against unlawful searches and requires officers to have probable cause to search, seize property, arrest, or obtain a warrant. 

When is it Legal to Search Your Vehicle in Missouri?

 In most cases, if a police officer pulls you over, they do not have the legal right to search your vehicle without your consent or a warrant. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. This includes circumstances where the officer believes there is probable cause to search your vehicle. A police officer can legally search your vehicle under the following conditions:

  • They obtain your permission
  • The officer has a valid search warrant issued by a judge 
  • If you have been arrested and the search is related to your arrest
  • The officer has reasons to believe there is evidence in your vehicle
  • The officer has probable cause to defend himself (has reason to believe you have a hidden weapon in the car)

Essentially, if the officer believes they have probable cause to search your vehicle, they will do so. 

When is it Legal to Search Your Home In Missouri?

 A search warrant is required if a law enforcement officer wants to search your home and property. However, it is legal for law enforcement agents to search your Missouri home without a search warrant in the following situations:

  • You freely give your consent without being tricked or coerced into it. You should note that the police officer is under no obligation to inform you that you have the right to refuse a search
  • If police officers observe illegal activity or illegal objects in plain view
  • If you are arrested for a crime, police officers have the legal authority to search your property without a warrant for evidence or protect themselves if they believe there are weapons in or on the property
  • Suppose the police believe that evidence is being destroyed, that the suspect is attempting to flee, or that someone is being injured. In those cases, the need for a search warrant may be neglected since the risk of losing evidence outweighs it

Know your rights when it comes to searching your property! 

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