What Protections do You Have Against Illegal Search & Seizure?
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.
The primary objective of search and seizure law is to protect people’s right to privacy and from unreasonable governmental intrusions. The police only have a right to search you if:
● They have a warrant;
● The circumstances justify a search without a warrant; or
● You consent to a search.
The Fourth Amendment was written to protect and establish the idea that “each man’s home is his own castle”, an idea which those of us living in the United States are very thankful for today. It is not a question of “if you’re not doing anything wrong it shouldn’t matter if the police search your car”, it’s a matter of principle, and to violate the Fourth Amendment principle is to violate what this country was built on. Namely, freedom.
(Note: This amendment only applies to government agencies. Private security companies are not subject to the limitations. Security guards can search you without at a warrant and the evidence may still be admissible- unless they are acting at the direction of law enforcement.)
Do Search And Seizure Laws Apply to My Criminal Case?
Search and seizure protections only apply to cases in which the defendant had a “legitimate expectation of privacy” at the time and place of the search. The U.S. Supreme Court provides a two-part test for determining whether a person had a legitimate expectation of privacy:
1. Did the defendant really expect a degree of privacy?
2. Does society accept that the defendant’s expectations were reasonable?
In other words, the person’s expectation of privacy has to be generally accepted by societal norms in order to be deemed reasonable. For instance, if police probed your purse on a train looking for contraband without due cause, society would accept that you had a legitimate expectation of privacy (which the police violated). If, on the other hand, the policed pulled you over and found drugs laying on the back seat in the open, society may not be willing to say your privacy should be protected because it was in plain view..