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Your rights against police searches

While investigating crimes, police must comply with basic constitutional rights concerning searches and seizure. Each person in Pennsylvania facing drug charges has these rights.

Police may not search a person's home unless they have the person's consent to search or they have obtained a search warrant executed by a judge. A roommate or guest can consent to the search if the police reasonably believe that person is authorized to consent. A person's office may be searched with a warrant or with the employer's consent.

A warrant allows police to enter a premises to conduct a search or make an arrest. A search warrant must clearly identify the place being searched and the items police are looking for. It does not have to identify the person if it clearly states the address and description of the place being searched.

An arrest warrant authorizes police to take a person into custody but does not provide permission for a home search. Police may look in places where a suspect may be hiding and take evidence that is in plain sight. The warrant does not have to have the name of the person under arrest if it clearly identifies the person.

When police arrive with a warrant, a person should ask them first to display it by slipping it under the door, showing it in front of a window or meeting with them in front of the house to review it. A person should tell police if they believe the warrant is legally deficient. Even if a person objects to the search, they should not interfere. They should write down the officer's names, badge numbers, the law enforcement agency, the places searched, and any items seized.

If police do not have a warrant, they should not be permitted to enter. A person should clearly state an objection. If police insist on entering, do not resist. Note their names and badge numbers. A search or arrest warrant does not require a person to answer questions.

An attorney should be contacted immediately when police arrive with a warrant or conduct questioning. Lawyers can begin a criminal defense and assure that rights are protected.

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