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Fine lines that mean a search warrant isn't needed

You know that the police typically have to get a search warrant in order to avoid violating your Fourth Amendment rights. This is to protect your privacy and make sure that police are only searching and seizing items when there's a valid reason to do so.

However, there are some very fine lines you should be aware of, giving police the right to do things without a warrant that would, if the details were slightly different, require one.

For instance, using high-tech electronic gear to listen in on your conversations -- such as wire-tapping equipment -- is illegal without a warrant. Sitting close enough to hear you without equipment, though, is not.

The police often want to hear your conversations so they can use what you say as probable cause to secure that search warrant. They can't do it from a distance, but they can do it without your knowledge. For example, an officer could sit at the next table at a restaurant and listen to you talk over dinner, without telling you, but he or she couldn't use electronic listening devices from the parking lot.

Similarly, police can't come into your home in most cases to look for physical evidence before obtaining a warrant. They can knock and ask to come in, though, and then anything they see in plain sight is fair game, warrant or not. That's why they'll often knock just to see what you do, as some people feel compelled to let them in and don't realize they can legally refuse.

It's very important to know your rights. If you've been accused of a crime and you think evidence has been obtained illegally, you may be able to have it removed from the case.

Source: FIndLaw, "Illegal Search and Seizure FAQs," accessed Dec. 09, 2016

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