Most people have heard of the Fourth Amendment. Many are familiar with its protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Yet a significant number of misconceptions exist about when and how law enforcement can conduct a search of a suspect. It is a complex area of the law, and the exact answer depends on the circumstances surrounding your arrest. The answer can even depend on where you were arrested, as state courts interpret their own constitutions prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures differently.
The Fourth Amendment And Probable Cause
The Fourth Amendment grants the right of the people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures. In order to legally search a suspect, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause and obtain a warrant. However, there are exceptions to this, including:
- Searches “incident to arrest”
- Evidence in “plain view”
- Some searches of the interior of cars
Each of these exceptions has a significant amount of case law going back decades. There are additional exceptions, but a full list is beyond the scope of this brief introduction. The courts have been analyzing the Fourth Amendment almost since its inception. It is continually evolving. Recently, for example, questions relevant to technology, including searching smartphones, laptops and other personal electronic devices, have become a hot-button issue. The extent to which police can search electronic devices has been stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, but as new circumstances evolve, so does case law involving the Fourth Amendment.
There Are A Few Bright-Line Rules
There are a few well-established, clear rules regarding when a search is legal or in violation of the U.S. Constitution. For example, police officers cannot pull over a vehicle without any reasonable suspicion that a driver is committing a criminal violation. Similarly, police cannot usually enter your home to conduct a search without a warrant, unless one of the exceptions is applicable.
Most often, criminal cases involving potentially unconstitutional searches hinge on a few key facts and the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.
We Are Strong Advocates Of Constitutional Protections
At Breeding Carter Crippen , our attorneys provide experienced criminal defense against various state and federal criminal charges. In every criminal case we take, we hold law enforcement accountable for violations of constitutional protections. Our lawyers believe that constitutional rights are integral to our way of life, and violations should not be tolerated in the criminal justice system. If you were arrested or searched in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, we will work diligently and aggressively to get any evidence obtained against you thrown out of court.