What is Unreasonable Search and Seizure?

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The founding fathers of the United States were extremely leery of authority figures, and everything in their power to limit the powers available to the government and law enforcement while still giving them the ability to keep the peace. As such, they made an extensive effort to reserve every citizen’s right to privacy by preventing law enforcement from being able to search them without warning or appropriate reason. This is guaranteed through the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and today it has a major impact on how criminal cases proceed.

How the Fourth Amendment Protects Your Privacy

The Fourth Amendment is designed to limit the powers of law enforcement and guarantee the right to privacy for citizens who have not been detained or are not under suspicion of having committed a crime. This basically means law enforcement are not permitted to search a suspected individual unless they have either detained them or have reasonable suspicion to think a crime has been committed.

Searches come in many different forms. While most people think of a search being a “frisk” or a “pat-down” by law enforcement officers, a search can also include going through your home, car, backpack or purse, or other personal belongings. Searches can also include your person itself, including taking blood or breath samples when accused of being intoxicated in public or driving under the influence.

Exceptions to This Rule

Forbidding law enforcement from being able to search may help maintain a right to privacy, but it can also obstruct justice from being done when a crime has actually occurred. Therefore, law enforcement can obtain the right to search so long as it’s in a “reasonable” manner. Here are some of the exceptions that allow authorities to search for evidence without violating your Fourth Amendment rights:

  • Probable cause: If police have a good reason to think they’ll find evidence that you committed a crime by searching you, they may go to a judge and request a search warrant. In DUI cases, they can skip the warrant, lawfully arrest you, and then conduct a search.
  • Extenuating circumstances: if law enforcement believe that delaying a search or obtaining a warrant will lead to the destruction of evidence, they may justify the search without taking the extra step of getting a warrant.
  • No search occurred: If evidence is left in a place where no person could reasonably expect to receive privacy, then law enforcement may legally obtain this as evidence without getting a warrant since a search can only occur when someone could reasonably expect privacy.
  • Non-authority detainment: The Fourth Amendment only applies to law enforcement and government personnel. Private security, shop owners, and even other citizens have the right to detain someone and search them, such as a security guard searching the backpack of a suspected shoplifter.
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