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.
Law enforcement officers may interfere with your Fourth Amendment rights only under limited circumstances and through specific methods. The Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure protections extend to:
A law enforcement officer’s physical apprehension or seizure of a person, by way of a stop or arrest; and
Police searches of places and items in which an individual has a legitimate expectation of privacy — e.g., your person, clothing, purse, luggage, vehicle, house, apartment, hotel room, and place of business.
Unlawfully seized items cannot be 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.
In most instances, a police officer may not search or seize an individual or his or her property unless the officer has a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or a belief rising to the level of “probable cause” that an individual has committed a crime. Violation of an individual’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment will nullify the effect of a search or seizure, and 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.
As with any facet of the law, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, an officer can use the “plain sight” rule to investigate any area that he can see without moving any obstructions or from where he were to stand in the normal course of performing his duties.