The Constitutionality of Searches at Courthouses

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can the police search my car without a warrant?”


The world that we live in today often requires an extra level of security. The ever-present threat of an individual, or individuals, bringing dangerous weapons to public settings creates the need for buildings to adopt safety procedures to keep everyone safe. Court houses have security at the entrances of the building to stop people from bringing contraband in like guns, weapons, lighters, and other prohibited items. While metal detectors and security guards give off the impression of safety, are they constitutional? The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that individuals are to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. Are there exceptions to searches and seizure protection?


security-guard-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-Criminal-Defense-Lawyers-200x300Administrative Search


There has been a dispute in the past over whether or not these searches at a courthouse violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. The leading case in the matter is from 1978. In McMorris v. Alioto, the Ninth Circuit court ruled on the legality of requiring people to walk through a metal detector before entering the courthouse and being required to hand over their personal property. The court defined this type of search as an “administrative search.” According to the court, the administrative search is permissible. It is permissible because it is “clearly necessary to secure a vital governmental interest.” In this case, the governmental interest was protecting sensitive facilities, the courthouse, from real danger.


Going through a metal detector and having your belongings searched before entering a courthouse is a “justified limited search procedure.” In searching and scanning individuals, the security personnel is not looking for evidence that a person has committed a crime. Instead, they are looking for weapons or other contraband that could threaten or harm other individuals in the building. McMorris is not the only case that has come to the conclusion that searches entering a courthouse are permissible. There have been many cases decided all across the country that trying to detect weapons and dangerous items before entering a courthouse is permissible.




While searches at the door of a court house are permissible, this is not without exceptions. There are three main exceptions and limitations on searches.


  • Overly Intrusive: Generally, a strip search or some other highly intrusive search is not permitted. Unless there is other evidence to justify an intrusive search, the security officers are limited to metal detectors and inspecting personal belongings.
  • Search Procedure: In one case, a court ruled that the security procedure that is given to the officers must be specific. There should be little to no room for interpretation. The officer should know exactly what they can and can not do.
  • Privileged Materials: The attorney-client privilege is important. Security personnel are not permitted to read materials that individuals are carrying. Many attorneys and visitors may be carrying privileged information that must be protected.


If you have any questions about the legality of a search, or any other criminal issues, contact the criminal law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We want you to be aware of your rights, whether that is in line at a courthouse or being arrested or charged with a crime. Contact us today to get your questions answered. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.





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