The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is one that comes into play quite often in the criminal justice system. The Fourth Amendment grants us certain safeguards when we are stopped and/or searched by law enforcement, and also prevents unlawfully seized items from being used against us as evidence in a criminal proceeding.
How much protection we receive under the Fourth Amendment will depend on the nature of the law enforcement encounter, what area is being searched, and, in general, the circumstances of the encounter. For example, if law enforcement officers are performing a search near a U.S. border, you may have fewer rights under the Fourth Amendment than you would in a non-border area due to the heightened government interest in patrolling these areas.
Alternatively, if police are attempting to perform a search within your home, you would probably have more rights under the Fourth Amendment than if that same search were performed elsewhere (your desk at work, for example) due to the heightened expectations of privacy we have in our own homes.
When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply?
The Fourth Amendment, broadly, comes into play during any instance of a “search” or “seizure.” But what exactly constitutes each of these? There is a fairly broad definition. The following list represents some, but certainly not all, instances when the Fourth Amendment may be applicable.
- Police are called to a residence for any reason and perform (with or without asking for consent from the homeowner or occupant) a search.
- You are stopped on the street for police questioning (including if you are asked to give the police your name, driver's license, or other information).
- Police place you under arrest subsequent to a traffic stop, confiscate your car and/or other personal property and perform a search subsequent to an arrest.
- You are pulled over for a traffic violation and the police want to search inside your vehicle.
- You are placed under arrest.
It bears repeating that this is just a small list of examples of when the Fourth Amendment may be triggered during an individual's encounter with law enforcement. This list is for illustrative purposes only, and the Fourth Amendment can come into play in many other scenarios.
Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney
The Fourth Amendment plays a crucial role in fighting against criminal charges. No matter what evidence the police may have in your case, if they failed to follow certain protocol, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to challenge this evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. If you are facing criminal charges, contact former King County prosecutor Steve Karimi.