Police in Palm Beach County have considerable powers to search your person or property. But you have a right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution. Where is the balance between law enforcement and individual rights?

As with many legal matters, it depends. In this case, the answer depends in part on where the search is taking place.

Where your right to privacy is strongest — and weakest

In general, police must have a search warrant before they can search a place where you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The places where you may have a reasonable expectation of privacy include your home, your body, your clothing and your personal belongings, such as a purse, backpack or cellphone. The right to privacy in your home extends beyond your doorway to the “curtilage” immediately surrounding your house and garage. For example, if your trash cans are immediately next to your home, police might need to get a warrant before they can search through your garbage.

You also have a reasonable expectation of privacy inside your vehicle. Generally, police would need to obtain a search warrant to search your car, but exceptions may apply, including if police arrest you first, there are illegal items in “plain view” inside your vehicle, or officers reasonably believe a search is necessary for their own safety. Police may also have grounds to search your home or person if illegal items are in “plain view.”

In fact, police officers often claim the “plain view” exception to justify a warrantless search and seizure. For this exception to apply, the item must be visible using normal vision. For example, a quantity of drugs on the dashboard of a car might be in plain view. The use of vision-enhancing devices like heat detection or telescopic lenses without a warrant is generally not allowed.

What it takes to defend your civil rights in Florida

Police and prosecutors are not going to fight for your right to privacy. If your rights have been violated, it will likely be up to you and your defense attorney to take up the issue in court. That is why it is so important to have an experienced and dedicated criminal defense lawyer on your side as soon as possible if you are facing a criminal charge of any kind.