Your rights under the Fourth Amendment are a cornerstone of criminal defense law. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement and the government.
Unfortunately many people do not fully understand their rights under search and seizure laws and often face criminal charges—or, in worst-case scenarios, find themselves behind bars—due to their lack of knowledge.
At Anderson, Creager and Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O., our criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to protecting our clients from wrongful prosecution and other violations of their constitutional rights. Continue reading or schedule an appointment with us to get your search and seizure questions answered.
Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects your right to be “secure” in your person, house, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures by federal and state law enforcement authorities. However, the amendment does permit searches and seizures as long as they are reasonable.
Law enforcement may invade your privacy and conduct a search of your person, home, vehicle, and other places and spaces when:
Law enforcement obtained a warrant based on probable cause to believe there was evidence that you committed a crime; or
The circumstances justify a search and seizure without a warrant.
In the event of an unreasonable search or seizure violating the Fourth Amendment, the exclusionary rule applies. Under the exclusionary rule, any evidence found by law enforcement as a result of unreasonable searches and seizures is not admissible as evidence against the defendant in prosecution.
Warranted Search and Seizure
Probable cause is a reasonable basis for believing that specific facts or circumstances exist. When there is evidence that establishes probable cause for a search, law enforcement may ask a judge to issue a search warrant. The warrant must:
Be filed in good faith;
Be signed by the judge;
Specify which location can be searched; and
Specify what law enforcement is looking for.
A search warrant does not allow law enforcement to search everywhere they want. The warrant must specify the specific area to be searched. For example, if the warrant is issued to search your home, the police cannot proceed to search your car parked outside unless the warrant explicitly outlines your house and car to be searched.
Can You Be Searched Without a Warrant?
While the Fourth Amendment generally requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to conduct a search and seizure, there are some exceptions to this rule. A warrantless search and seizure may be valid and lawful if any of the following applies:
Consent. If a person gives consent to the search, law enforcement can conduct a warrantless search. However, the consent must be given voluntarily. Unfortunately, the police may take advantage of your lack of knowledge and put pressure on you to consent to a search. Many people assume they must consent to a search and don’t know they have a right to refuse the search. The police are not required to inform people of their right to refuse the search.
Arrest. When a lawful arrest takes place, the arresting officer may search your person or your immediate surroundings (e.g., your car) for any items that may harm the officer, such as a weapon.
Plain view. Under the plain view doctrine, the police do not need to obtain a search warrant to search for evidence that is in plain view. However, law enforcement must be legally present in the location where the evidence was observed and have a right of access to the object. In addition, the officer must have probable cause to believe that the object is contraband before seizing it.
Destruction of evidence. A warrantless search may also be valid if the police reasonably believe that the suspect could destroy the evidence in the time it would take for them to obtain a warrant. For example, the officer’s immediate action may be necessary to prevent the destruction of the evidence if the police reasonably believe that the suspect is about to flush illegal drugs down the toilet.
Someone’s life is in danger. The police may enter a person’s property without a warrant if doing so is necessary to prevent physical harm to officers or other persons.
In our experience, we have seen many instances of police officers misusing the above-mentioned legal exceptions to search and seizure laws. At Anderson, Creager and Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O., we fight for justice and hold law enforcement authorities accountable for violating our clients’ constitutional rights.
Protect Your Rights With Our Help
Police officers and law enforcement authorities are legally required to follow the letter of the law. However, it often happens that they violate rights when searching for evidence of a crime.
If you believe you have been subjected to an unlawful search and seizure, contact Anderson, Creager and Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our team can explain your rights and challenge any evidence obtained during illegal searches.
We proudly serve clients throughout Southeast Nebraska. Get focused attention and strong legal representation by contacting our office today.