Our individual rights to privacy and property are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that we are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures without a legal warrant. Unfortunately, police officers sometimes toe the line between a proper investigation and the invasion of one’s property.
What Is a Search?
A search occurs when a police officer physically intrudes on your person, home, car, papers, or effects. Below are a few common examples of searches:
- A police officer patting you down
- A police officer checking your pockets
- A police officer examining your phone or computer
- The FBI bugging your home telephone
- A drug-detecting dog sniffing around your home
The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit all searches—just unreasonable ones. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s case law, the rule is that the Fourth Amendment applies only when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Reasonable expectation of privacy can be assessed by the following:
- Did the person involved subjectively expect privacy?
- Is that expectation objectively reasonable?
If this test is met, then law enforcement must obtain a warrant to conduct a search. For example, a person typically expects privacy in their home. This expectation is objectively reasonable. A search of a person’s home without a warrant is therefore unreasonable.
If law enforcement has a warrant for a search, the search is legal. A judge must issue a warrant, but only if they are convinced that the police have probable cause to believe that the search may produce evidence of a crime. A search may still be considered legal without a warrant, but only if the individual involved consents to the search, if officers can clearly view an illegal act, if a suspect is under arrest or if the situation justifies a search without waiting for a warrant because evidence could be destroyed.
The Exclusionary Rule
If a judge finds that law enforcement conducted a search that violated the Fourth Amendment, it may apply the exclusionary rule. Under this rule, any evidence uncovered during the illegal search cannot be used in court against the defendant. Additionally, police cannot use additional evidence discovered because of the evidence found during the initial illegal search.
If the police show up to your door asking to look around, you are legally allowed to refuse their request. If they say they have a warrant, ask the police officers for identification, an explanation as to why they are at your location and the warrant itself. If a search of your home or vehicle has already occurred, and you are not sure if it was done legally, you need to contact me, the Weymouth criminal defense lawyer at Flanagan & Associates, today.
Call (617) 651-3220 or contact me online for a free consultation.