The 4th Amendment prohibits the government from “unreasonable” search and seizure of your person, houses, papers, and effects. A search can either be obtained with a search warrant obtained by the police from a magistrate, or can be a “warrantless” search, which can occur if the cop has probable cause to search, obtains consent to search, or there are exigent circumstances where it would take too long to obtain a search warrant. The various things that can be searched in current times are unlimited. When contraband is found as a result of a warrantless search, many times a “Motion to Suppress” is filed with the court asking the court to exclude the contraband from evidence.
Search cases almost always are decided on a factual case by case basis. A recent Georgia case, State v. Cook , decided in July, 2016, involved the warrantless search of a person’s backpack.
Nekia Cook was involved in an accident and taken to Grady Hospital. Security officers noticed an odor of marijuana coming from Cook’s backpack, confiscated the bag, and searched it. Inside they found a mason jar full of marijuana. The security officers called the Atlanta Police, who searched the bag without obtaining a warrant.
A warrantless search is presumed to be invalid, and the State has the burden of proving otherwise. At the hearing to suppress the marijuana evidence, the only person to testify was the Atlanta cop; the security officers did not testify. The Atlanta officer had no personal knowledge of what the security officers had seen, nor did the Atlanta officer smell marijuana himself, nor did the APD officer include any such information in his report.
Since no evidence was presented by the State which would have given the APD cop reason to search the backpack, and since Cook neither consented to a search, nor were there exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search, the evidence was obtained illegally and was suppressed from evidence.
For you, the important thing to remember is that you should NEVER consent to a search of your person, house, car, or personal property. The Constitution provides us certain protections from the government, and we need to use those protections. If you are charged with a crime involving drugs, you need an experienced, aggressive lawyer with knowledge of search and seizure law. Please do not hesitate to call me if you find yourself in such a situation.