One of the great things about this country is the right to privacy. To help preserve this right, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The key word there is “unreasonable,” and legal disputes occur when law enforcement claims they had adequate reason to perform a search and the citizen claims otherwise.
Understanding precedents where searches were deemed appropriate or not can help you in the event that you want to dispute a case where you feel your right to privacy was violated. Below is a brief explanation of search and seizure law.
“Reasonable” As It Relates to Search and Seizure
“Reasonable” is a word which has contextual definitions based on current social standards.
For example, it is commonly understood that some places warrant a higher expectation of privacy than others. It’s expected that your home bathroom is more private than your office bathroom, which is more private than your office cubicle, and so on.
Camera footage constitutes a search, and if your office were to place cameras around the cubicles, that would not be an unreasonable violation of privacy. But it would not be socially acceptable to place cameras above the office bathroom stalls, so this type of search would be considered unreasonable.
Courts can determine reasonable expectations of privacy on a case by case basis.
While there are very few circumstances where placing cameras in a bathroom would be acceptable, observing items placed in car seats or bags may be subject to more or less scrutiny depending on the situation.
Consider the difference between an officer seeing an illegal item left in the passenger seat of a car in a mall parking lot as opposed to a car parked behind a house.
The parking lot renders the item in plain view, but stepping on someone’s property to check the car’s passenger seat would violate the right to privacy, assuming there was no probable cause or acceptable reason to trespass on private property.
It’s important to remember that the Fourth Amendment protects you from government officers only.
Private security personnel and other citizens are not limited in this way. With this in mind, it’s worth knowing if the Fourth Amendment protects you in your specific case.
If a search is found to be unreasonable, all evidence gained from that search is thrown out. This is referred to as the exclusionary rule.
Furthermore, through a concept known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” all evidence that stems from that search is thrown out as well.
This can often result in entire cases being thrown out if every successive piece of evidence came as a result of prior evidence discovered through an illegal search, such as locations and contacts.
However, if other unrelated evidence is presented that warrants a conviction, even having the illegal search thrown out can prove unhelpful.
Oberhauser Law is Here to Help You
Knowing your rights, and when they are violated, is important.
If you have recently had your rights violated or questions regarding your rights, it is in your best interest to get legal representation. Oberhauser Law Firm, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Massachusetts, can help.
Contact us today for more information. 978-452-1116