In the US, the police can only search your property if there is reasonable cause for suspicion. The police cannot search your person, your car, your home, or other property without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. This is because of the Fourth Amendment. Below, we’ll take a look at your Fourth Amendment rights and what happens if they’re violated before or during an arrest.
What is the Fourth Amendment?
The Fourth Amendment is an amendment to the United States Constitution and a part of the Bill of Rights. Its goal is to protect people against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In addition to protecting you from unwarranted searches, the Fourth Amendment also protects you from having your property seized by police. This means that, in many cases, things you own cannot be taken as evidence or during an eviction. Of course, if your property is contraband or was used to commit a crime, or the police see clear evidence of illegal activity, your Fourth Amendment rights may not be able to prevent them from taking your property.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Mean to Me?
The Fourth Amendment has often been under debate, as there have been some recent controversial cases where police may have abused their power. It’s important to remember that the Fourth Amendment was written well over 200 years ago, before the advent of security cameras, the internet, and personal recording devices. With this in mind, you can see why the Fourth Amendment can be contentious.
If the police show up at your door or pull you over and ask to search, it’s important to know your rights. If they don’t have a warrant or reasonable suspicion, do not consent to a search, even if you haven’t committed a crime. Consenting to a search lets police enter your property without a warrant. Even though police can technically search vehicles without a warrant, there must be probable cause.
What the Fourth Amendment Doesn’t Protect You From
While the Fourth Amendment is designed to keep citizens safe from authorities abusing power, there are a few instances where it doesn’t apply. In these cases, police don’t need a warrant to conduct a search. Here are some of the most common circumstances that the Fourth Amendment won’t protect you from:
- If you have contraband items in plain view (i.e. you have drug paraphernalia on the passenger’s seat of your car during a traffic stop), the police can seize this property.
- If you’re being arrested, police can search your person and nearby surroundings for dangerous items like weapons. If you are being arrested near your car, the police can also search your car where you were sitting and inside the car, but not in locked glove compartments or trunks.
- If the police were in pursuit of a suspect, and the suspect entered your home or property, police can enter in pursuit of them.
- If you’re in a car and the police have reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime, they can search. This is because it takes time to obtain a warrant, and a car can easily be moved out of the police department’s jurisdiction.
- If you give consent to a search without a warrant, police are allowed to search your property. In most cases, even if you are completely innocent, you shouldn’t consent to a search. Police officers may try to coerce you into giving consent, so be careful with the language you use when speaking with them.
While these are the most common times a warrantless search happens, there are a few other circumstances to keep in mind. If a police officer believes they are in immediate personal danger, or someone else is in immediate danger, they are allowed to search your property. Also, if it seems like you’re about to destroy the evidence, i.e. flushing drugs down the toilet, they may enter your property.
What Happens When Fourth Amendment Rights Get Violated?
When law enforcement officials violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, this means that their search or seizure of evidence can be deemed unlawful. Any evidence they may have gathered during that search or seizure (including both physical property and confessions) will almost never be permissible as evidence in a criminal case against the individual whose Fourth Amendments rights were violated. If you committed a crime though, this doesn’t necessarily get you off the hook. There still may be other permissible evidence or witnesses that can incriminate you.
The Fourth Amendment has many interpretations and can be notoriously convoluted. If you believe that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated, it’s important to consult with a legal expert. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands your rights and all the intricacies involved in these types of cases.
If you have been charged with a crime, contact us right away for a free consultation to discuss your case.