Everything You Need to Know About the 4th Amendment: Your Rights Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure

The Amendment IV as highlighted in the Constitution guarantees all citizens their freedom from unlawful search and seizure by law enforcement agencies.  It is the bedrock in which individuals’ constitutional rights to privacy are guaranteed.

This protects the state from interfering with the normal lives of individuals.  Lawmakers and the judiciary have put the necessary mechanisms to ensure individual rights are protected by all means.

The Fourth Admendment limits the constitutional powers of police and other law enforcement agencies to make unreasonable arrests or interfere with the privacy of the American citizens either in their homes, businesses, places of worship and even public places.  This means that even though the right to privacy is guaranteed, police may override your right to privacy and conduct a search of you, your property, and even your documents if,

  1. The search is proven to be reasonable and the police have evidence that you have committed a crime and they have a warrant, or
  2. If the circumstances justify the search without the police or other law-enforcing agencies obtaining a warrant.

What Rights Are Protected by the Fourth Amendment?

According to the Constitution, the right against unreasonable search and seizure extends to:

  1. Where law enforcement officer/officers physically apprehend a person by way of stopping or arresting, or
  2. When the enforcement officer/officers conduct searches on places or items which an individual has a right to privacy. Amendment IV protects individuals from unreasonable searches, detentions and prevents unlawful seizure of personal property that police use as evidence in criminal cases.

Application of the Fourth Amendment

In the criminal law realm, the fourth amendment is applicable in, but not limited to, the following circumstances.

  • Where you are arrested.
  • Where you are stopped for questioning by law enforcement agencies.
  • Where an individual is pulled over by police for a minor traffic offense and the police conduct a search of their cars.
  • Where law enforcement officers confiscate personal property and keep it in their possession.
  • Where law enforcement officers enter personal property such as homes to conduct a search.
  • Where law enforcement officers enter business premises to search for evidence of a suspected crime.

Where the Fourth Amendment Doesn’t Apply

The Fourth Amendment is applicable where an individual is confined to the “legitimate expectation of privacy.”  In all other cases, the law doesn’t apply because the individuals’ privacy has not interfered with.

During the determination of such cases, the attorney cross-examines the individual to ascertain that their privacy was interfered with at the time of search.  The victim must prove to the court that by the time of search they expected some degree of privacy and that the expected privacy was reasonable at the time of the search.

Typically, a police officer can carry out search or seizure only when,

  • They can provide a valid search warrant issued by a judge
  • They can provide a valid arrest warrant
  • When they can prove ‘probable cause’ with evidence that a crime was committed.

What Happens When Search and Seizure Contravene Amendment IV?

If the court finds out that the Fourth Amendment was violated during the search or seizure then all the evidence seized cannot be used to incriminate an individual.  This principle was established by the U.S Supreme Court and is widely used in such cases.  It also dictates that all of the secondary evidence that was derived from the primary evidence is inadmissible in court.

In some instances, if the case is argued properly and it proven that the search and seizure were illegal, it can lead to the dismissal of the case.