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Understanding the basics of search & seizure protections

The 4th Amendment was created as a response to the unjust search and seizure of colonists’ homes during the Revolutionary War. The 4th Amendment generally requires a warrant to be obtained before officers enter private property. This prevents law enforcement from simply barging into a home and turning the place upside down to search for evidence.

The following are examples of what can and cannot be done under search and seizure laws.

“Reasonable” Searches and Seizures

  • Police must present “probable cause” before engaging in search and seizure activities. Probable cause means there must be evidence that a crime has more than likely occurred.
  • Police may also conduct searches when there isn’t a legitimate expectation of privacy. This could mean when you’re using a public restroom or when you have put out garbage for pickup.
  • Searches can be conducted based on third-party information given to law enforcement.
  • Officers can expand their searches if they feel it is necessary for the safety of others or to prevent the destruction of key evidence. 

Not all searches and seizures require a warrant. For instance, searches and seizures are lawful if an officer is given permission by the homeowner or if evidentiary items are in plain view. Officers can also enter a home legally during a lawful arrest. Cars may be searched if there is a reasonable belief by an officer that a crime is being committed. The law also permits the pat-down of drivers and passengers during traffic stops.

Unlawful Searches and Seizures

  • Police can’t conduct a search without a warrant unless a legal exception can be applied to the case. They also have to abide by the guidelines in the warrant and not exceed the scope.
  • Any evidence collected during an unlawful search can’t be used against you in court. Illegally obtained evidence is not allowed as a gateway to find other evidence.
  • During car stops, your vehicle and person can’t be searched unless the police have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place.

Evidentiary items such as fingerprints, skin scrapings, fingernail clippings, blood samples, and urine samples are all protected under the 4th Amendment. Illegally obtaining these items during a criminal investigation is a violation of a person’s rights.

To learn more about your rights and to ensure they are protected, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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Robert D. DiDio
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