The Importance of Knowing Your Fourth Amendment Rights

police officer talking to male driver exercising his 4th amendment rights

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What is the Fourth Amendment Simplified?

The Fourth Amendment is important because it protects American citizens from unreasonable search and seizure by the government, which includes police officers. It sets the legal standard that police officers must have probable cause and acquire a warrant before conducting a search.

What Does the Fourth Amendment Actually Say?

The actual text of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution 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.

The Fourth Amendment simply put prohibits the government from searching someone's person, home, vehicle, or other property without having a valid legal reason to do so. What the 4th Amendment does NOT mean, however, is that the government is never allowed to conduct a search of you or your property; it simply means that, in most cases, they must have a warrant.

Here are some examples of legal searches:

  • Law enforcement has obtained a warrant to search a person's home
  • Law enforcement has arrested a suspect and proceeds to search their person and immediate surroundings for weapons
  • A police officer spots drugs on the passenger seat during a traffic stop and confiscates them
  • An individual has given the police consent to search their property even without a warrant

Examples of illegal searches and seizures may include:

  • An officer obtains a warrant to search one piece of property, but proceeds to search something else outside the parameters of that warrant
  • Law enforcement searches an individual or their property without probable cause (i.e. a legitimate reason to conduct the search)
  • Law enforcement conducts a search without consent solely on the basis of someone "looking suspicious"

Illegal Search and Seizure

It is important to be aware of your protections under the Fourth Amendment, so you know when police are and are not within their right to conduct a search of you, your vehicle, or your property. If the police do not have a search warrant, a few instances allow them to conduct a legal search.

These include:

  • If the suspect consents to a search (verbally or in writing)
  • If the public is in immediate danger
  • If there is evidence that needs to be collected before it is destroyed
  • If there is evidence in plain view (i.e., evidence that can be seen through the car window as the officer approaches)

Criminal Charges After an Illegal Search

If you were arrested after what you believe was an illegal search, it’s crucial to begin preparing your defense. Take notes of everything about the interaction and arrest. These details can help you prove that there were no legal grounds for the search.

A defense attorney can help argue that the evidence against you was collected illegally, and file a motion to suppress it. Any evidence collected during an illegal search should not be admissible in court. Once the evidence is successfully suppressed, the case will likely be dismissed.

Austin, Texas Criminal Defense

Our lawyers at Smith & Vinson Law Firm are passionate about protecting the Constitutional rights of our clients. If you have been accused of a crime and feel that your rights may have been violated, we'd be happy to offer you a confidential case evaluation.

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