We all know that we have constitutional rights, but many of us are unfamiliar with what they are and how they help us.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution says:
- “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 This Mean For My Case?
The Fourth Amendment is a powerful tool that a good criminal defense attorney can use to help exclude evidence that law enforcement officers unlawfully obtained.
For instance, if you were charged with weapons possession or drug possession, the Fourth Amendment can help you get the weapon or drugs excluded from evidence at trial if the police acted unreasonably and unlawfully.
This almost always helps your case and makes it a lot tougher to prove that you possessed an item that the prosecution cannot even show to a jury.
Myths and Misnomers
Many people wrongly think that the Fourth Amendment protects you from all kinds of searches and seizures.
However, this is simply untrue. If the search was conducted reasonably, it will not be considered unlawful.
Also, certain things that we might consider a “search” are not considered as such by the law.
For example, a police officer will be able to go through your trash bags that you put out to the curb without it counting as a search.
The law allows for this because the United States Supreme Court has held that we do not have a legitimate or reasonable expectation of privacy in trash that we leave on the curb for collection.
Moreover, some think that every search requires a warrant to be produced. This too is completely untrue.
After all, there are approximately eleven different exceptions to the warrant requirement.
One of the most common exceptions involves automobiles. A police officer is not required to obtain a warrant in order to search your car. He will only need to first have probable cause that it contains contraband.
Additionally, if the officer has arrested you, he can conduct a search incident to the arrest. After he arrests you, he can search your pockets for weapons or contraband without first obtaining a warrant so long as certain requirements are met.
Lastly, if the officer has reason to suspect that you are trying to destroy the evidence (e.g. stash your weapon, consume the remaining drugs, etc.), he will not need to obtain a warrant before seizing the contraband.
Ultimately, the key to our Fourth Amendment right is the probable cause requirement, not the warrant requirement.
Unlike the warrant requirement, which has many exceptions, there really are no exceptions to the requirement for an officer to have probable cause to conduct a search.
What is Probable Cause and How Can it Help Me?
The Supreme Court has interpreted probable cause to mean a “fair probability.”
In the Fourth Amendment context it means a fair probability (i.e. a legitimate likelihood) that the area the officer is going to search contains contraband (e.g. weapons, drugs, illicit materials, etc.).
Sometimes it also means there is a fair probability that the item the police are looking for will be where they plan to search.
This initial requirement safeguards you against arbitrary and random searches of your possessions.
In other words, the probable cause requirement prevents a police officer from simply going up to any person on the street and searching them for no genuine reason.
The big takeaway regarding our Fourth Amendment right is the notion that the police have to act reasonably before conducting searches.
Remember, it is crucial to hire an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney who knows how to argue that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated and can fight to exclude incriminating evidence.
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one was charged with a crime in New Jersey, contact Adam H. Rosenblum of The Rosenblum Law Firm today. Mr. Rosenblum is a skilled criminal defense attorney who has helped people in similar situations. He will defend your constitutional rights, fight to keep you out of jail, and do what he can to have your charges dismissed. E-mail or call him today at 888-815-3649.