search and seizure

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Search and seizure, in criminal law, is used to describe a law enforcement agent’s examination of a person’s home, vehicle, or business to find evidence that a crime has been committed. A search involves law enforcement officers going through part or all of individual's property, and looking for specific items that are related to a crime that they have reason to believe has been committed. A seizure happens if the officers take possession of items during the search.

The Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution require that any search of a person or their premises (including a vehicle), and any seizure of tangible evidence, must be reasonable. Normally, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a judge, specifying where and whom they may search, and what they may seize, but in emergency circumstances, they may do away with the warrant requirement.

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team