How Do Police Search Criminal Suspects?

A police search can happen during an arrest and a pat-down or frisk, or as a part of an administrative search. A search warrant is needed for the latter, but a warrantless search can be conducted in an emergency situation.


You have the right to remain silent and tell officers you want your lawyer present. If possible, ask for someone to witness the search and take notes.


The procedures that follow an arrest, commonly known as “booking,” may vary greatly between jurisdictions. However, most have standard elements. Police compile an arrestee’s name, fingerprints, a photograph of them (often referred to as a mug shot), and information about the crime they are accused of committing. They also run a search of the suspect’s background and try to find any outstanding warrants.

Typically, a suspect will undergo a pat-down inspection of their clothing and body to ensure they are not carrying weapons or drugs. This is sometimes expanded into a full strip search, in which the arrestee must remove all their clothing and relinquish personal belongings, including their cell phone. To protect the safety of jail officials and inmates, suspects are frequently screened for tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Those with questions about booking, jail, and bail should seek legal help from an experienced attorney familiar with the law in their jurisdiction. An attorney could explain how central booking works and help individuals find out if they are currently in custody.


While the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, police officers sometimes conduct searches without warrants. This is allowed if the search is to ensure officer safety or to prevent the destruction of evidence. For example, if someone flees after committing a felony, officers can enter the suspect’s home or car to search and seize evidence during a hot pursuit; however, this type of search must be limited in scope and time to the immediate area where an escape could occur.

A protective sweep of the suspect’s residence may also be conducted during an arrest to protect officers and other people. A warrantless search of the area surrounding a person arrested can also be performed as long as the underlying arrest is valid. This can include searching cars, clothing, and other personal items.

In other cases, a suspect will allow police to perform a search as part of an arrest. For instance, if an officer suspects the person is hiding drugs in their garage, they can ask for consent to search the garage and its surroundings. A criminal defense attorney will challenge whether this search was lawful and should try to bar the use of any evidence that was seized from an illegal search.


While the exact process of interrogation differs slightly among jurisdictions, most follow the same basic guidelines. This involves assessing credibility, obtaining evidence for accusations through direct questions and understanding legal rights protocols such as informed consent or Miranda Rights to protect individuals’ rights.

The goal of interrogation and questioning is to elicit truth, which can include inculpatory confessions of guilt or exculpatory denials of involvement in the crime. This can be difficult as suspects often exhibit body language that suggests they are feeling guilt, such as shoulders slumping or eyes tearing up. Investigators can encourage suspects to talk by reviewing the impact that the criminal act has had on victims, while pointing out that they have no prior record and offering them an opportunity to clear their conscience.

During this phase, a police officer will typically check for outstanding warrants against the suspect and search their personal effects, such as clothing, to see if there is any evidence of the crime that can be linked to them. Medical screenings may also be conducted. A suspect will then be placed in a holding cell until their bail is posted or the end of their trial.


When a suspect is being taken into custody they must surrender their clothing, personal items and weapons to the police. They will receive their belongings back when they are released, unless they are considered to be evidence. A full body search may also be conducted to ensure that no weapons are brought into the holding cell. This is sometimes known as a strip search and is particularly invasive.

If an officer is in hot pursuit of a felony they can enter a residence and conduct a search without a warrant if it is believed to be necessary to preserve or protect evidence, protect officers or the public, inhibit suspects from fleeing, or for other emergency situations. The police must then notify the District Attorney’s Office of their findings and they will determine whether charges will be filed. If no charges are filed the suspect will be released. If charges are filed, the suspect will be sent to a pre-trial detention center. During this time, the District Attorney’s office will investigate whether the suspect committed the crime and that their actions were lawful.