The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects personal privacy, and every citizen's right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property -- whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes and businesses.
Lawmakers and the courts have put in place legal safeguards to ensure that law enforcement officers interfere with individuals' Fourth Amendment rights only under limited circumstances, and through specific methods.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Protect?
In the criminal law realm, Fourth Amendment "search and seizure" protections extend to:
The Fourth Amendment provides safeguards to individuals during searches and detentions, and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence in criminal cases. The degree of protection available in a particular case depends on the nature of the detention or arrest, the characteristics of the place searched, and the circumstances under which the search takes place.
When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply?
The legal standards derived from the Fourth Amendment provide constitutional protection to individuals in the following situations, among others:
Potential scenarios implicating the Fourth Amendment, and law enforcement's legal obligation to protect Fourth Amendment rights in those scenarios, are too numerous to cover here. However, in most instances a police officer may not search or seize an individual or his or her property unless the officer has:
What if My Fourth Amendment Rights Are Violated?
When law enforcement officers violate an individual's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and a search or seizure is deemed unlawful, any evidence derived from that search or seizure will almost certainly be kept out of any criminal case against the person whose rights were violated. For example:
Learn More About Search and Seizure and the Fourth Amendment from a Lawyer
The rules of search and seizure are notoriously complicated. You don't have to stay confused though, and the complex rules mean that an expert can often find problems with searches, which can result in evidence being thrown out of court. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can review the search and seizure procedures used in the case against you to see if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.