In order for evidence gathered by law enforcement to be used against you
in court, it must be obtained legally. This is a protection afforded by
the Fourth Amendment, which is designed to help ensure those who face
criminal accusations are given a fair trial by guaranteeing your right
to privacy. Invasions of privacy that yield evidence but are unwarranted
are ruled illegal and the evidence may not be used against you by the
Most people know the basic principle of this rule: the police or other
law enforcement must obtain a search warrant to be able to search you,
your home, your car, or other property for contraband that can be used
as evidence. Most people do not know that law enforcement doesn’t
always need a warrant to search or obtain evidence. Some of these situations
include: when you leave the evidence in plain view, when police want to
prevent evidence from being destroyed, or when your actions constitute
a threat to general public safety.
Let’s look closer at what is and is not protected by this amendment.
What Is Protected?
In general the Fourth Amendment guarantees you privacy of what’s
in your home, your car, your pockets, and on your property, provided it’s
not immediately visible or kept in a way that no reasonable person should
expect it to remain private.
For example, if you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer for speeding,
the officer cannot request that you step out of the car and then perform
a search on you for drugs. Since the officer has no reason to suspect
that you have drugs in the vehicle, this search would be considered unreasonable
and therefore any drugs they were to find could not be used as evidence
against you in your trial.
That being said, law enforcement does have the ability to search you or
your property if they obtain a search warrant from a judge. To get one
of these documents, law enforcement must go to a judge and present their
case, including where they wish to search, when they plan to do it, and
what they expect to find. Judges require them to be specific with these
details, so law enforcement may not obtain evidence for an entirely unrelated
crime when they have a warrant for an initial charge. For example, if
law enforcement obtains a search warrant on suspicion that you are hiding
drugs in your home, they cannot find evidence of illegal firearms and
use it against you to open an entirely new charge.
What Is Not Protected?
If you do not have a “legitimate expectation of privacy,” then
the Fourth Amendment offers you no protection. Going back to the drug
example, if you are pulled over for speeding and have drugs sitting on
the passenger seat, then you do not really have a reasonable expectation
of privacy. At this point, the officer does not need to obtain a warrant
to arrest you on drug possession charges and submit the drugs on your
passenger seat as evidence against you.
This protection also does not extend to private security forces, who may
detain you and then turn you over to local authorities along with evidence
they have discovered by their own search procedures. For example, if a
mall security officer catches suspects a teenager shoplifting from a store,
they may detain them and search their backpack or pockets for the stolen
items. Should they find the items and prove they are stolen, security
can then turn the thief over to the police along with the stolen goods,
which are admissible as evidence in court.
Have you been subjected to a search you believe may have been illegitimate?
Call a Walnut Creek criminal defense attorney from
Cardoza Law Offices, Inc. as soon as possible. Our attorneys are well versed in the laws regarding
searches and seizures, and may be able to work to suppress the evidence
in your case if it was illegitimately obtained. With more than 45 years
of experience and over 250 full jury trials, you can trust that Attorney
Cardoza has the skill you need to seek the best possible outcome to your case.
Review your case with a
free consultation! Call Cardoza Law Offices, Inc. today at (925) 274-2900.