The Fourth Amendment states that “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.” Under your Fourth Amendment rights, you can expect safety and protection in your home and possessions. However, some exceptions do exist to those regulations–and understanding them can help ensure that you can protect yourself, your property, and your family if you are ever involved in criminal proceedings.
Breaking Down Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment protects against the unreasonable search of several key elements.
Officers cannot conduct searches and/or seizures inside a home without a warrant unless some exception exists.
You do not have to submit to an unreasonable search of your person, especially if the officer has no reason to ask for that search or corresponding information.
Your vehicle is your personal property, and you do not have to submit to a search of it for no reason.
Exceptions to Fourth Amendment Rights
While the Fourth Amendment offers a number of protections against unreasonable search and seizure, it does not mean that officers do not have the right to search your home or vehicle, or to conduct a search of your person, at all.
An officer can search your home or vehicle without a warrant if you give consent.
Sometimes, you may find it easier to give consent for a search than to argue about the existing circumstances, especially if you want to quickly prove your innocence and feel that you have no reason not to submit to a search. Keep in mind, however, that you do not have to consent, and that anything officers find during that search can be used against you later.
An officer can search your home in order to conduct a lawful arrest.
If the officer believes that they need to arrest someone in your home, they can search your home for that person. If, during the course of that search, the officer uncovers additional evidence, they can then use that evidence as part of the court case against either members of the household or the person they entered to arrest.
Officers can inspect and seize items in plain view.
If they can see the items in question from the doorway or the window, they can reasonably come in and seize those items. If the officer has reason to enter the home for another reason and sees items involved in criminal activity, the officer can seize those items.
Officers can detain someone involved in criminal activity or who behaves in a suspicious way that suggests potential criminal activity.
If an officer notices someone behaving oddly on the street, especially someone who seems to be engaged in illegal activity, they can briefly detain the person and ask reasonable questions about that individual’s activities to help either confirm or deny their suspicions.
An officer can legally search a vehicle with probable cause.
If the officer believes that the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity, they can search the vehicle and look in any areas that they think might contain that evidence. They do not have to have permission to search a vehicle during a routine stop if they have reason to believe that they can find evidence of illegal activity.
States can set up highway checkpoints to help combat drunk driving, at international borders, or to help catch criminals in the immediate aftermath of known criminal activity.
Those sobriety checkpoints can include brief stops to check for immediate sobriety or to briefly investigate, with vehicle owners’ cooperation, the potential presence of criminals who might be trying to get out of the area. However, those highway checkpoints cannot be used primarily to search for narcotics in drivers on the roads.
Schools can request the search of students on campus or involved in school-sponsored activities without the need for further permission or justification.
Schools must protect all the students within them to the best of their ability. As a result, school staff may have the ability to request that an officer search a student who has reportedly engaged in suspicious activity or who the school has reason to suspect may have a weapon or other contraband. In order to establish the right to search a student, the officer need only show reasonable cause under the current conditions.
While the Fourth Amendment offers considerable protections, those protections do not include times when an officer may have reason to suspect criminal activity and has the right to search and seize items or evidence in spite of those protections.
Do you think you may have been subject to illegal search and seizure? Contact us today to learn more about your rights and how those rights can impact the use of any evidence collected through a Fourth Amendment violation.