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The Meaning of 'Search and Seizure'

The meaning of 'search and seizure' requires a closer examination. I have blogged many times about different types of searches or seizures, however, I have not examined the root.



The term "search," as applied to searches and seizures, is an examination of an individual's home, building, automobile, person, papers or effects for the purpose of discovering contraband or some evidence of guilt to be used in the prosecution of a criminal action.

The United States Supreme Court has set forth a two-part test to determine if a search occurred: (1) whether a person exhibited an actual expectation of privacy; and (2) whether such an expectation was one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.

A search under the authority or purported authority of law implies a prying by government agents into hidden places for that which is not open to view or is concealed. It also denotes an invasion with some measure of force or submission to that force compelled under law, either actual or constructive.
The mere looking at what is open to view is therefore not a search, nor is the overhearing of a public conversation, but the inspection of packages shipped by mail or the electronic monitoring of private conversations does constitute a search. A canine sniff is not a search for Fourth Amendment purposes,3 but is a search under the Pennsylvania Constitution.


A protective pat-down is a search under a Terry analysis, and a more intrusive search will be justified if the officer reasonably believes that what he felt appeared to be a weapon.


The courts draw a distinction between particularized searches of a person, place, or thing (e.g., the search of a car passenger's purse) and general, or random, searches (e.g., a roadblock or a school-wide search of students' lockers). The reasonableness inquiry in a general, or random, search is not focused on individualized suspicion leading to a decision to search a person, place or thing, but whether the search itself is reasonable in light of the governmental interest in conducting the search when balanced against the level of intrusion occasioned by the search.