The Fourth Amendment

There are a few Amendments included in the United States’ Bill of Rights that relate to Criminal Law. Here is important information to know about the Fourth Amendment.

Amendment IV

“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.”

  • The Fourth Amendment was originally used to ensure the principle that “each man’s home is his castle.” It was intended to guarantee that each person would be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement and the government. The essential purpose of this amendment was to protect a person’s right to privacy and to maximize the prevention of government infringement. Currently, in order for searches to be conducted legally, law enforcement would first need to have a substantial amount of probable cause and in most cases, a search warrant.
    • Probable cause can typically be defined as anything that causes sufficient reasoning (based upon facts) to assume that a person or property is connected with a crime. Once probable cause has been established, law enforcement can then apply for a search warrant. In certain situations such as exigent circumstances (a situation where there is imminent danger) or in the event of voluntary consent, a search warrant is not needed (warrantless searches are then permitted).
    • These warrants are a court order that are signed by either a magistrate (an officer of the State), a judge, or a Supreme Court official, and they legally authorize the search of a person, a location, or even a vehicle. Whatever is found during a legal search can only be admissible in court if it is within the confines of the warrant. For example, if one is being searched in connection to a drug crime and law enforcement finds evidence of another type of crime, they cannot collect this evidence.
    • The Exclusionary Rule, under the Constitution, holds that evidence which is collected unconstitutionally (such as in the event of the above example) is not admissible in court. This inadmissible evidence cannot be included in any criminal prosecution under the court of law for the related case.
    • The Fourth Amendment also holds that a person must first demonstrate an expectation of privacy in order for their claim to stand. This essentially means that if something is in plain-view (such as a beer can in your car’s cup holder) it is considered to be admissible evidence, even without a search warrant.