Are you aware of your Fourth Amendment rights? You should be. As an American citizen, it’s important to know your rights so you’re prepared when dealing with law enforcement.

Put simply, the Fourth Amendment protects United States citizens from unwarranted and unjustified searches and seizures of their person, home, and property. However, in practice, it is not that simple.

The Fourth Amendment still allows for search and seizure that are reasonable and that are warranted by probable cause. Understandably, probable cause can be a gray area and can often depend on law enforcement. Therefore, here’s what you should know about your rights and probable cause.

Rights Covered Under the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment prevents the violation of basic human rights by not allowing the government to search private property for no reason. But citizens need to be aware of their rights if they are going to defend them. Under the Fourth Amendment, you have the following rights:

  • You can refuse any request to search or seize your property. If probable cause is not available, law enforcement may simply request that they search your home, vehicle, or person. If you agree willingly to this search, they may continue this search. But you are not required to comply.
  • You are able to request a warrant if a search or seizure is suggested. Law enforcement should be able to either outline probable cause or give you a warrant before they begin to search or seize your property.
  • Your rights extend to property that has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This property includes luggage, cars, rental cars, purses, wallets, and hotel rooms – any area in which you would expect to be able to store private items.
  • You are protected from searches for evidence simply upon the suspicion of a crime. Police need to have some reason to believe that you have committed a crime or that a crime is in progress to complete a warrantless search; they cannot simply suspect you.

If you are searched and evidence or contraband is found, then the police often do have the right to seize these items. Further, they can seize items if they have probable cause to believe that the items are involved in a crime or that they originated through criminal dealings. At this point, you may want to engage professional help to get the items back.

Examples of Reasonable Causes for Search and Seizure

If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed, then they are allowed to perform a search and/or seizure without a warrant. Here’s what can constitute probable cause:

  • Hearing suspicious sounds. Law enforcement may have reasonable cause to believe that someone may be injured or in need of help if they hear suspicious sounds inside of a building.
  • Smelling drugs. If law enforcement officers smell drugs, they may have reasonable cause to search a person, their home, or their car.
  • Performing a suspicious traffic stop. In general, motor vehicles are considered to have less of an expectation of privacy than an individual’s home.
  • Seeing things in plain view. If an officer sees something illegal when looking into a home from outside, they generally have reasonable cause to enter.
  • Being in an area without expectation of privacy. Schools, as an example, often have lower requirements for probable cause, as the expectation of privacy is less.

If evidence against a person is found through a search that is later deemed to have been illegal, then it must generally be excluded from the case. But there are exceptions to this, such as in the event that the evidence would have been found regardless.
Either way, it’s extremely important for anyone who has experienced a search and seizure or who anticipates one to have legal counsel. If you have further questions about your Fourth Amendment rights, contact Hernandez Law Offices. We offer legal counsel to anyone facing criminal charges.

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