Has your car ever been searched during a routine traffic stop? Have police officers entered your home when you weren’t there? Are these things even allowed to happen?
You might not think much about the Fourth Amendment as you go about your everyday life, but knowing what it protects — and what it doesn’t — could come in handy someday.
Let’s take a look at the basics:
What does it say?
The Fourth Amendment reads: “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.”
What does this mean?
In layman’s terms, this means that under most circumstances, law enforcement must have probable cause and a warrant to search you, your vehicle or your home. If it is found that police conducted an illegal search to obtain evidence, this evidence cannot be used against you in court. This is known as the “exclusionary rule.”
Of course, there are gray areas when it comes to search and seizure laws and what rights you do and do not have.
When is a warrant unnecessary?
There are some instances when police don’t need a warrant to perform a search, including:
During an emergency, such as a pursuit of a fugitive If consent is given (including by a roommate or spouse)If there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the location being searched.
If you’ve been subjected to a warrantless search or believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.