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Understanding the Fourth Amendment and illegal search and seizure

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2024 | Criminal Defense

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution serves as a shield to protect your personal privacy. In terms of criminal defense, the Fourth Amendment guards against illegal search and seizure by the government. But if you are like most people, you are probably wondering what exactly constitutes an illegal search by police.

Fourth Amendment violations

Police violations of the Fourth Amendment can threaten your freedom, which is why these violations need to be uncovered in criminal cases. The most common types of Fourth Amendment violations are unlawful searches and seizures. Illegal search and seizure can happen if the police 1) don’t have a search warrant, 2) conduct a search without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, 3) otherwise search you or your property without your consent, or 4) unreasonably expand a search beyond the scope specified in the search warrant.

In many cases, prosecutors will ask a judge to issue a search warrant if the prosecutors believe a crime may have been committed. However, a search warrant must be specific and limited in scope. In other words, the warrant must be focused on finding specific evidence related to a specific alleged crime. The warrant must also specify where the search can take place. Police are not allowed to expand a search to other areas of your property or other location without a good reason to do so.

In other cases, police may conduct a search and seize property in the absence of a search warrant. But this can only occur if the police have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. For example, a police officer may conduct a search of a vehicle if the officer sees drugs in plain view inside the vehicle.

A police officer may also ask for your consent to a search, but you do not have to give consent. Instead, you should politely decline and say that you would like to speak to an attorney.

Unlawful search and seizure most often happens in criminal cases involving:

What happens if police violate your Fourth Amendment rights

If police obtain evidence through an illegal search and seizure, the evidence may be kept out of court. In many cases, keeping unlawfully obtained evidence out of court results in a reduction or dismissal of charges. That is why it is so important to put an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side as soon as possible, so a skilled legal advocate can begin investigating your case to determine whether your Fourth Amendment rights were violated. In many cases, people’s rights were violated and they were not even aware of it until a defense lawyer uncovered the violation.