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Are the actions of police officers always legally justifiable?

On Behalf of | May 8, 2024 | Criminal Defense

For an action to be legally justifiable, you or whoever is doing the action should be able to support or defend it as lawful within the framework of the legal system. When officers are too determined to catch a suspected perpetrator, it can lead them to abuse the very laws they swore to uphold. They may cross the line and engage in aggressive behavior that can lead to unjustified and unreasonable arrests, searches and seizures.

When the actions of police officers are unjustifiable

You hold certain inalienable rights that law enforcement agents must respect, regardless of the situation. The U.S. Constitution provides protections under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures, meaning police officers need a valid reason—probable cause—to justify certain actions. They need a valid and legal justification to do any of the following:

  • Make an arrest: You should know that officers need a solid basis to believe you have committed a crime before placing you under arrest.
  • Conduct a search: Whether it is your car, your home or your person, police need either your consent or probable cause to search.
  • Seize property: If an officer takes your belongings, they must have a lawful reason to believe the property is connected to a crime.
  • Get a warrant: Before a judge issues a warrant for an arrest, search or seizure, there must be evidence to support the police’s request.

Despite these rules, there are instances when police might stretch the interpretation of probable cause to fit their narrative. Here are examples of how that might happen:

  • Abuse during arrests: Some officers might arrest individuals based on a hunch rather than concrete evidence, which can lead to false accusations and wrongful detentions.
  • Overstepping during searches: An officer might conduct searches without a warrant or consent, relying on vague suspicions instead of factual evidence.
  • Property seizure without rationalization: There are times when police seize property without the necessary legal backing, causing undue hardship to the rightful owners.
  • Warrants based on inadequate evidence: Warrants issued based on weak or insufficient evidence are unlawful and can lead to invasive searches and privacy breaches.

Each of these scenarios can lead to violations of your rights. Under California law, an officer has the authority to arrest a person without a warrant whenever they have probable cause to believe that the person has committed a public offense in their presence. However, they must use this power ethically and within the boundaries set by the law.

Police officers cannot arrest or search whomever they please without legal justification. You can challenge a police officer’s actions if you believe they acted outside the bounds of the law or violated your rights, but do not do it alone. Wait until the odds are even and you have a solid defense strategy.