The police and other authority figures exist to help keep law and order
in our land, but what stops them from simply barging into your home to
check and see if you are doing something illegal? The answer lies in the
Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects citizens from “unreasonable
searches and seizures.” This guarantees people their privacy from
law enforcement and prohibits authorities from conducting an unwarranted
search of your home, car, office, or any other location.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: "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." There are two very distinct
parts to this Amendment, which we will detail here.
What Is Protected?
The first part of the Amendment grants all citizens the right to security
in their property, be it their home, their car, their papers, and even
what they have in their pockets. This means that authorities are forbidden
from searching you or your property without reason, known as “probable
It is this very principle that can cause seemingly-insurmountable evidence
to be thrown out of a case and be forbidden from consideration in jury
deliberation. If police fail to follow procedures or do not have a good
reason to conduct a search, then any evidence that was obtained through
that search can be suppressed.
What Isn’t Protected?
On the flip side, the Fourth Amendment creates a provision for times when
the police may override your right to privacy, or when a search and seizure
is warranted. In order to do so, the police must have “probable cause,”
or believe they can find evidence that you committed a crime through their search.
This can come in two ways. For most criminal charges, the authorities must
obtain a search warrant from a judge, who listens to their reasoning and
determines if a warrant is permissible. The second is when the circumstances
justify a search without needing a warrant (i.e. a police officer stopping
a driver they suspect is intoxicated and subjecting them to a breathalyzer test).
The Fourth Amendment also only applies when someone has a “legitimate
expectation of privacy.” There is a two part test to determine if
this applies: 1- did the person actually expect some degree of privacy,
and 2- is the expectation of privacy objectively reasonable by society’s
To better understand this, let’s look at an example. Say the police
pull over a vehicle for speeding. While the driver is rolling down his
window, the officer notices a weapon sitting in plain view on the passenger
seat. At this point, the officers could reasonably conduct a search and
seizure on the vehicle, and the weapon could be permissible as evidence.
The reason for this is because society does not consider the front seat
of a car in plain view to be a location where someone could expect privacy.
However, this could be considered grounds to obtain “probable cause”
and justify a full search of the vehicle. If the vehicle’s description
matches that of one that was recently spotted fleeing the scene of a bank
robbery or some other crime scene, you can bet the police will probably
conduct such a search.
Violating the Fourth Amendment
If a search is deemed to have violated the Fourth Amendment, any evidence
cannot be used against the defendant at a trial and is fully suppressed
through what is known as the exclusionary rule. On top of that, any supplemental
evidence that is obtained because of this illegally-procured primary evidence
is also inadmissible through what is known as the “fruit of the
poisonous tree doctrine.”
If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime after
evidence has been found through a search and seizure, you should not hesitate
to speak to a Modesto criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney
Mark Girdner understands the importance of having an experienced ally to help you protect
your rights and freedoms. Search and seizure cases can be complex, and
Attorney Girdner will review all of the facts in your case to determine
if your evidence may have been acquired illegally, and work tirelessly
to have this evidence thrown out to prevent it from working against you.
Learn more about your legal options today! Call the Law Offices of Mark
Girdner at 209.326.1533 to schedule your
free initial consultation.