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What are my Fourth Amendment rights?

Your Fourth Amendment rights, as written in the United States Constitution, appear straightforward and simple on paper. The Fourth Amendment specifically protects:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

What does the Fourth Amendment text mean?

The interpretation of the Fourth Amendment by criminal law courts throughout the United States could change depending on local case law and the nuanced opinion of the judge deciding the matter. However, in a criminal law context this amendment generally covers:

  • A police officer's ability to stop, detain or arrest someone.
  • A police officer's ability to search a private location, residence, place of business, vehicle or person.

As far as the rights and protections afforded by the amendment, this includes the prevention of unlawfully seized evidence and information from being used against a defendant in criminal proceedings. The Fourth Amendment might apply to the following circumstances:

  • When police want to stop and detain someone for questioning.
  • When police want to pull over an individual in a traffic stop and police want to search the person's vehicle.
  • When police want to arrest someone.
  • When police want to enter someone's residence to arrest him or her.
  • When police want to search someone's home.
  • When police want to search a business.
  • When police want to confiscate property.

When can police perform the above actions under the Fourth Amendment?

If police want to perform any of the actions listed above, the Fourth Amendment requires one of the following to be true:

  • Police have obtained a valid search warrant;
  • Police have obtained a valid arrest warrant; or,
  • Police have "probable cause" to believe that the person targeted in the search has committed a criminal act.

Were your Fourth Amendment rights violated?

Violations of Fourth Amendment rights happen frequently during arrests, searches and seizures. However, the individual's whose rights were violated often don't even realize it. If you feel that police may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights, it may be a good time to learn more about constitutional law.

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