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When can a Georgia police officer search someone’s person?

On Behalf of | Aug 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Sometimes, police officers happen to be nearby when something criminal happens, and they can very quickly take action to arrest someone for an assault or a shoplifting attempt. Other times, police officers investigate suspected criminal activity after a report has been made. They may also encounter individuals in public places that they may suspect of involvement in criminal activity.

Searches are one of the ways that officers may obtain the necessary grounds to arrest an individual. Officers may seek to go through someone’s home or vehicle. When encountering someone in a public place, an officer may also want to physically search their person, including their clothing and any bags they may have in their possession.

Such searches typically feel quite invasive to members of the public. When is it legal for an officer to search someone during a public encounter?

When they have permission

Frequently, police officers will casually ask someone if they can do a quick search or pat them down. Getting permission is the easiest way to conduct a search that an officer otherwise would not have grounds to perform.

When they suspect a weapon

There are very clear established rules that apply when an officer stops someone to frisk them, which some people call a Terry stop. Simply suspecting that an individual may have illegal items in their possession, such as drugs, does not justify searching them physically. Officers typically need to have reasonable suspicion of a weapon to search  someone’s body.

When they arrest someone

If an officer believes that they have the probable cause necessary to arrest someone and convince a prosecutor to charge them with a crime, they will have to transport that person to state facilities. The arrest and intake process typically involves an in-depth search to ensure no one brings contraband or weapons into jail or a holding facility.

Those who understand when a search is lawful are in a better position to identify when a search might actually be illegal. Some Georgia defendants can fight the charges they face by convincing the courts that a search of their person was illegal and was a violation of their rights. As a result, understanding the rules that apply to different types of searches may benefit those hoping to respond appropriately after a recent arrest.