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Why do police engage in illegal searches?

The police come to your hotel room, enter, and search it without your permission. Someone left illegal drugs in the hotel room -- maybe it was you, maybe it was the last guest, maybe it was someone else in your group with whom you traveled to Las Vegas. That doesn't matter, at the moment, because you're the one who gets back to the hotel room first, and they arrest you on drug charges.

Was that search illegal? It probably was if the police did not have probable cause and did not have a search warrant. Generally speaking, they must have a reason to think that a crime is happening or that they'll find evidence, they have to ask for a warrant from the court and then they can enter under the authority of the warrant.

Of course, you can also give them permission to enter, and this is often their first tactic to avoid getting a warrant. But you do have the right to say no and keep them out. To overrule your wishes, that's when they need the warrant.

Denied entry

If you do deny them entry, the police may decide to force their way in. This is one reason that they carry out illegal searches. They believe that you have the illegal drugs in the room, but they don't have any evidence to back it up. They can't get a warrant on a hunch. They may just hope they'll think of a justification after the fact, but that doesn't make it right.

Stereotyping

In other cases, they may carry out an illegal search because they stereotype you and assume you have broken the law simply by looking at you. They can stereotype you based on things like age, gender, ethnicity and more.

For instance, maybe an officer believes that young people tend to use illegal drugs more often than older people. With a lot of older tourists in Las Vegas, the officer becomes suspicious of your group because you're all very young. To that officer, you look like the "type of people" who probably stashed drugs in the hotel room.

Laying it out like this, it's obvious why such a search is illegal. Stereotyping people is never wise, especially in a criminal context. You have as much of a right to freedom as anyone else, regardless of your age. Unfortunately, some officers do it based on biases that they hold that have nothing to do with you.

Your rights

If you do get arrested illegally or subjected to an illegal search, make sure you understand all of your legal rights. The law is on your side.

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