Protecting Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment restricts the power of law enforcement officers to make unwarranted arrests or perform unjustified searches. As a part of The Bill of Rights, this amendment was not only created to protect individual liberties, but to ensure the integrity of our judicial system is upheld.
“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.”
While the Fourth Amendment does protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, warrants and probable cause of illegal activity do allow for someone to be legally searched and arrested.
For the search and seizure to hold up in court, law enforcement officers have to prove they were justified in their actions, and show they adhered to every letter of the law. This is where knowing your rights, and finding experienced attorneys can help you protect your Fourth Amendment rights and fight against unjustified search and seizure.
Search – go through personals (ie: house, car, belongings, person)
Seizure – arrest
What rights do you have to avoid a search and seizure?
Thankfully, the Supreme Court has worked hard to ensure your home is well protected from illegal searches. No warrant = no search, even if the officer states that they have probable cause and need to search. The 4th Amendment requires police officers to have a signed search warrant prior to entering your place of living… while this can be a grey area when applied to your car or backpack, your home tends to be the most protected.
Regardless, be careful. If you allow or invite the police officer into your home, they have the right to seize anything illegal that is sitting in plain sight, such as drug paraphernalia. This can quickly turn into an arrest.
The same thing holds true when you open the front door to greet an officer. If there is something illegal in plain view, and the officer can see it from the front door, he or she will be able to use it as probable cause to enter. TIP: Keep private items out of view of the front door and windows.
Can you protect your rights while not provoking the officer or making yourself look guilty?
Of course. In fact, you can greet the officer outside by exiting the house through a different door and meeting the police out front. This keeps them from seeing inside your house, and it keeps them from forced entry, if that’s your concern. When you greet the officer, be calm and respectful. The best thing to say is, “How can I help you?” Generally, cops come around to ask about a crime committed in the neighborhood or to take care of a noise complaint. Issues like these are usually quickly solved.
If you have done nothing wrong, don’t need their help, and there isn’t a warrant, you don’t even have to answer the door. They should eventually leave.
On the other hand, if you have been involved in a crime or the officer is investigating possible illegal activities that may be going on in your home, just keep quiet. Simply state, “Officer, I cannot let you inside without a search warrant” and nothing else.
What about my car or backpack?
There is definitely a lowered expectation of privacy regarding vehicles and bags. A good rule of thumb is to not carry anything private or illegal that you would not want a police officer to see. While you do have rights when being pulled over, probable cause is much easier for an officer to prove when you’re in a car than it is at your house.
Generally speaking, most bags and purses have high expectations regarding privacy. If you go to a concert or on a business owned property, there is a chance your bag could be searched. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have to worry about a cop pulling you aside to search your bag if you are simply walking down the street or riding the bus. When in a situations regarding search without a warrant, remember to stay calm and respectful, and know that you have the Fourth Amendment on your side.
If an officer approaches you or your property, do not feel intimidated.
- Do not leave personal items in plain sight.
- Check who is at the door before opening it
- Do not invite or allow police into your home.
- Be kind and respectful if you do greet an officer.
- Remember that you don’t have to tell them anything. You have the right to remain silent.
- Keep your belongings to yourself.
Does The Fourth Amendment Always Protect Me?
No. This amendment only applies to government employees and only in situations where privacy is a reasonable expectation. The reasonable nature of your expectation will be decided in court based on your ability to prove that such expectations are assumed by a majority of society.
An example of reasonable expectation of privacy would be…If you have carry-on luggage safely stowed in the overhead compartment of a train, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. A stranger or officer does not have the right to randomly grab your non-transparent luggage and search it.
An example where reasonable expectation of privacy would not apply is…if you are growing illegal drugs in your backyard, and a police officer happens to see, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Fourth Amendment does not protect any illegal activity on your property that is visible to the public.
Another scenario when the Fourth Amendment does not apply is when you are searched or detained by private security at the mall or on private property or in any other area with private security. Since private security officers are not employees of the government, and don’t act on behalf or at the request of police officers or the government, Fourth Amendment rights do not apply. Evidence found by these searches is handed to the police and allowed in court, because no rights were violated in their retrieval.
Fourth Amendment Violations In Court
Because of the exclusionary rule, the government is generally prohibited from using evidence seized in violation of the U.S. Constitution. If subsequent evidence was found because of the original, unlawful evidence or search, then that evidence is also not permissible. This rule is court-created, not an independent constitutional right, but its purpose is to protect victims of illegal search and seizures… as well as encourage lawful search and seizures by police officers. In some cases, evidence is not thrown out. Learn more about exceptions to the exclusionary rule here.
Don’t be a victim of an illegal search and seizure whether it is at your home, in your car, on the sidewalk, or anywhere else. Keep an eye out for more of our Know Your Rights blogs. If you have experienced a possible illegal search and seizure, please contact the Cochran firm today.