Understanding the Fourth Amendment: Did You Experience an Unlawful Search?
Today’s news cycle seems to mention The Constitution of the United States throughout each show. However, it seems that all the talk focuses on the First Amendment – freedom of speech – or the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms.
But what about what is arguably the most important constitutional amendment we have? What about the amendment that keeps us free from unreasonable searches or seizures by the government or law enforcement? This is the amendment that keeps your home, your car, and you safe – the Fourth Amendment.
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.
Lawful vs. Unlawful Searches
Now, it is essential to understand that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit law enforcement from conducting searches but rather prohibits them from unreasonable searches of your persons, house, papers, and effects.
What Is an Unreasonable Search?
Well, as typical for an attorney to say, it depends. At the core, there are two types of searches – searches involving a warrant and warrantless searches. When considering warrantless searches, it is important to know that searches conducted without a warrant do not mean that the search is automatically considered “bad.”
But, it does mean there are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement that need to be met, and if they are not, there may be fileable motions that suppress any evidence obtained out of that unconstitutional search. For example, when a law enforcement officer pulls over your vehicle for failing to maintain a single lane, you have been seized. But what if your car just barely drifted over the lane marker and no traffic was affected by your movement? In that case, you may have a motion to suppress the traffic stop and any evidence of a crime obtained after the stop.
Or what if you are arrested for a minor offense, such as lack of a valid driver’s license, and then while you are in the backseat of the patrol vehicle, the officer searching through your car finds a gun or drugs? The question then becomes, why did they search your vehicle, and what is the exception they are relying on? Was it a search incident to arrest? However, it may be they would need to look for or believe that evidence of the crime they arrested you for is in that vehicle. What evidence would be found in the vehicle regarding a “no valid driver’s license charge?” The answer is none.
But what about an inventory search, which does give law enforcement authority to search. Even those searches must comply with the specific law enforcement agency’s policy and procedure in addition to the case law.
Meldon Law Is Here for You
The big takeaway is that if you have been arrested for any offense, you need an attorney who understands the Fourth Amendment and can draw on it to defend your case. You need an attorney who is expertly knowledgeable regarding the intricacies of how the Fourth Amendment may apply differently to a search of a vehicle, a person, or a home.
When you have been unlawfully searched or arrested, it is essential to know relevant court hearings and dates and the potential defenses you may have. At Meldon Law, we have the expertise and experience to assist you in every aspect of your case. Our attorneys know your rights and are dedicated to defending them – and defending you.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, call us at or fill out our contact form for a prompt response to schedule your free consultation. We want to help you get started on the path to getting your life back today.