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Unreasonable Searches Under the Fourth Amendment

As many of us are already aware, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our rights as individuals to be free from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures. But what is a search, and what makes it reasonable or unreasonable?

What is a Search?

A search occurs when the state or federal government (typically in the form of a police officer) physically intrudes on your person, house, papers or effects. The following situations are examples of searches:

  • A police officer pats you down when he arrests you.
  • A police officer checks your trunk when she makes a traffic stop.
  • Police review your bank records.
  • Police examine your cell phone or computer.
  • The FBI bugs a telephone booth which you use for illegal gambling. (Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967).)
  • A drug-detecting dog sniffs around the perimeter of your house. (Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. __ (2013).)

When is a Search Unreasonable?

Remember that 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 where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The test for assessing a reasonable expectation of privacy is:

  1. Did the person involved subjectively expect privacy?
  2. Is that expectation objectively reasonable?

If this test is met, then the police must obtain a warrant in order to conduct a search. For example, a person typically expects privacy in his home. This expectation is objectively reasonable, because we all as a society share this expectation. A warrantless search of a person’s home is unreasonable.

When Can the Police Search?

If the police have a warrant for a search, that search is presumptively legal. A warrant must be issued by a judge, who must be convinced that the police have probable cause to believe that the search will turn up evidence of a crime.

Without a warrant, a search may still be considered legal if the individual involved consents to the search, or if circumstances justify conducting a search without waiting for a warrant.

The Exclusionary Rule

If a court finds that the police conducted a search that violated the Fourth Amendment, it will apply the exclusionary rule. Under this rule, any evidence that may have been uncovered during the illegal search may not be used against the defendant. Under a doctrine known as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” police also cannot use any additional evidence discovered only because of the evidence found during the illegal search.

Consult an Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you believe you have been subjected to an illegal search, particularly if you have been charged with a crime as a result, you need an experienced lawyer to provide you with an aggressive defense and protect your rights from further violation. The criminal defense lawyers of The Baez Law Firm, with offices in Orlando and Miami, have successfully defended all manner of criminal cases in central Florida and beyond. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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