Illegal Drug Search and Seizure in North Carolina- Know Your Rights

In the United States, citizens are protected from the government intruding on their privacy. People have rights that are safeguarded by criminal procedure law. However, our laws also intend to deter illegal activity. When you are subject to a search, police try to ensure they obtain all evidence against you. 

It is not legal for police to search you, your home, or any of your property simply to find something. Prior to performing a search, they must have the legal right to conduct one. In this article, our Raleigh drug charge defense attorneys detail what constitutes a legal and an illegal search. You need this information to know what your rights are. The knowledgeable team at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law is ready to help you navigate the process when you are uncertain.

Illegal Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the constitutional grounds for excluding evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure. Generally, before police enter a person’s home and search his or her car, personal property, or person, law enforcement must obtain a warrant that is based on “probable cause” to believe that the evidence being sought is in the place searched. An unreasonable search and seizure is one that is executed:

  1. Without a legal search warrant signed by a judge or magistrate describing the place, person, or things to be searched, OR
  2. Without probable cause to believe that a certain person, specified place, or automobile has criminal evidence, OR
  3. Extending the authorized scope of search and seizure

Evidence that is obtained without a valid warrant should be excluded due to unreasonable search and seizure. If the police do not have probable cause to search you or to obtain a warrant, any search is illegal. Warrants can exclude certain property. If a warrant has an exclusion and it is violated, then the search that uncovers drug evidence against you may be illegal.

Exceptions to Warrantless Searches

Your privacy rights can be overridden by police if they have probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime or if the circumstances of the situation allow for a search to be carried out without a warrant. 

Plain View Doctrine

There are two situations in the plain view doctrine that provide exceptions to the necessity of a warrant.

  • Private View: If an officer is lawfully on the premises or stops the vehicle for a lawful purpose and “the incriminating character of the item is immediately apparent,” the officers can seize that in plain view even if it is not on the list of the search warrant.
  • Public View: Items in public view may be seized without a warrant since individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in things exposed to the public.

Immediate, Demanding Circumstances

  • Law enforcement officers will take immediate action to secure the place and make time to get a warrant or they may search without a warrant if they believe that failing to do so will cause the destruction of evidence, threaten the public’s safety, or cause a suspect to flee.
  • When law enforcement officers are in hot pursuit of a suspect who is fleeing after committing a felony, they can arrest and search that individual. However, if the crime is not a felony, the exception cannot be applied.
  • In order to avoid the destruction of evidence, protect officers or the public, or inhibit suspects from fleeing. The emergency nature of the situation is determined objectively from the officer’s judgment.


If an officer has probable cause to believe that an automobile contains evidence of a crime or contraband, he/she is able to search automobiles, including the trunk and luggage, or other containers that may reasonably contain evidence or contraband. Drugs or drug paraphernalia is considered to be contraband. 


A third party with possessory rights to the property may have the authority to voluntarily consent to a search. These elements must be present:

  • Voluntary: If the consent was given under threats, then it is invalid.
  • Authority: The property must be legally owned, occupied, or jointly controlled by the third party.
  • Scope: Usually it is limited to the consent, but it may extend to reasonable areas.

Administrative Searches

An administrative search differs from a criminal search. Some administrative searches do not require warrants such as vehicle checkpoints and roadblocks, factory or inventory searches, residential institutions, cause of fire searches, and the detention of a traveler.

Stop and Frisk

If law enforcement officers have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring, they can stop a suspect for weapons to ensure their safety.


A search incident leading to an arrest may not require a warrant if the officer only searches a suspect’s immediate surroundings to prevent the destruction of evidence or secure the safety of themselves or nearby people.

Exception of Good Faith

For a government officer who has a search or seizure warrant that turns out to be invalid, if he/she objectively and reasonably relies on the warrant and executes a search or seizure pursuant to the warrant, evidence seized through the search or seizure may not be excluded. The prerequisite to the good faith exception is that the officer did not have any improper action during the search or seizure. The reason is that the Fourth Amendment is mainly designed to deter police officers’ misconduct. Punishing the officer for the magistrate or the judge’s error cannot contribute to the deterrence of the Fourth Amendment’s violations. 

For example, the judge made mistakes when he/she signed a search warrant because the defendant’s name was the same as the other person who was supposed to be searched. As a result, the police executed the search according to the warrant and found criminal evidence. This evidence may not be excluded because the police acted in good faith.

Contact Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh When You May Have Been Searched Illegally for Drugs

Our team of legal professionals has the knowledge and experience you need when you have been subjected to a search and seizure. We can guide you through the complexities of the law where search and seizure are concerned. You will need personalized legal counsel who can put together an astute and aggressive defense strategy. Schedule a consultation with us today at (919) 845-6688 or fill out our contact form. We are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.