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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides some of the most powerful protections for people who have been accused of crimes. It also provides some or the most important limitations we have on the behavior of the police.
Most critically, the Fourth Amendment provides that the people should be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This refers to the police’s ability to detain or arrest people, and to search people or their property.
In this blog post, we will briefly discuss these limitations on searches and how they can affect criminal defense.
Over the years, the courts have changed their minds many times as to what counts as an “unreasonable” search, but they have generally agreed that the police must have a warrant before they can search a person’s home, or somewhere the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
To get such a warrant, the police must convince a judge that they have probable cause to believe they will find evidence of a crime in the search. “Probable cause” doesn’t necessarily mean the police already have very strong evidence; it just means they feel they are more likely than not to find evidence of a crime.
They must also have some idea of what evidence they expect to find. For instance, if the police want to search the premises of a suspected drug dealer, they must tell the court they expect to find drugs, drug paraphernalia, large amounts of cash, and other evidence of an illegal drug trafficking operation. To demonstrate they have probable cause, the police may show the judge testimony from a witness, or photographs that seem to indicate criminal activity.
Generally, if the police do not have a warrant before they search a person’s home, they have violated the person’s Fourth Amendment rights. If the police did not have a warrant before they searched a person’s home, any evidence they gathered in that search should be suppressed from court.
However, it’s important to note that there are many exceptions to the warrant requirement. For instance, the police may be able to search without a warrant in an emergency situation.
The Fourth Amendment protections can apply in almost any kind of criminal defense case, and the rule against unreasonable searches can apply not only to physical searches, but to phone taps and electronic surveillance as well.