Safeguarding Your Fourth Amendment Rights

At Huffman Butler & Mason, PLLC, we make sure that police follow the law when placing you under arrest or searching your home for evidence of a crime. We have extensive knowledge of the intricacies of the Fourth Amendment and aggressively pursue the suppression of any evidence obtained through illegal means.

What Is Protected Under The Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution offers citizens a number of important privacy protections. It states: "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."

In practical terms, this means that law enforcement must generally obtain a warrant prior to placing a person under arrest or searching for evidence. If they fail to do so, the evidence may be excluded from trial.

When Is A Search Warrant Required?

The Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a warrant from the court in order to lawfully search and seize evidence during a criminal investigation. However, the Constitution only guards against searches and seizures when you have a "legitimate expectation of privacy" in the place or object searched. Courts have long recognized the home as the most sacred place, but you also generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a number of other areas, such as the trunk of your vehicle or your purse.

A legal search warrant must meet several requirements. The police officer requesting the warrant must have probable cause to believe that the search will uncover criminal activity or contraband. The warrant must also "particularly" describe the person or place to be searched, such as a full name or street address.

While searches and seizures conducted without a warrant are presumed to be unconstitutional, there are several notable exceptions, including:

  • Consent - If you consent to the search, a warrant is not required. However, you must voluntarily agree, and police may not exceed the scope of permission granted
  • Plain view - If a police officer is lawfully present in your home or has lawfully stopped your vehicle, any contraband (i.e., illegal drugs or weapons) that is in "plain view" can be seized without a warrant
  • Exigent circumstances - Searches are permitted during unforeseen or emergency circumstances in which criminal activity is strongly suspected, but police officers lack sufficient time to obtain a warrant
  • Search incident to arrest - The police may search you and the area in your immediate control for weapons and evidence

Fourth Amendment Concerns In The Modern Age

The laws surrounding the Fourth Amendment continue to evolve. Law enforcement now routinely uses sophisticated technology to monitor criminal suspects, which often tests the bounds of what constitutes a legal search. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that using thermal imaging to look inside a home for evidence of drug activity is an unconstitutional search.

In an effort to deter crime, cities increasingly rely on "stop and frisk" programs. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may stop and question persons and pat them down for weapons without triggering Fourth Amendment protections, as long as law enforcement officers have reasonable suspicion. However, the range of allowed search activities continues to widen, even permitting the use of metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs. "Stop and frisk" programs also raise questions about racial profiling and other civil rights violations.

Remedies For Fourth Amendment Violations

For criminal defendants, Fourth Amendment violations are largely remedied through the exclusionary rule. If the police did not follow proper procedures to obtain a warrant, a civil rights attorney will file a motion to suppress. If the arrest is not supported by a valid warrant or probable cause, any evidence obtained in connection with the arrest, such as a confession, is not admissible against you in a criminal trial.

Similarly, evidence obtained through an illegal search must also be excluded from the case. Evidence derived from improper police conduct, such as a confession prompted by evidence seized without a valid search warrant, is also off limits under the doctrine often referred to as "fruit of the poisonous tree."

Motions to suppress can have a dramatic impact on a case. If the wrongfully seized evidence or confession is the only proof of the crime, the case may be dismissed. Otherwise, prosecutors will attempt to rely on other legally obtained evidence.

Victims of Fourth Amendment violations can also sue federal and state officials for monetary damages related to their civil rights violations. Because government officials are liable only if their conduct violated ''clearly established'' rights of which a reasonable officer would be aware, the remedy is largely limited to fragrant violations, such as excessive force or police brutality.

If your Fourth Amendment rights have been infringed, it is important to consult with an experienced lawyer. At Huffman Butler & Mason, PLLC, our civil rights and criminal attorneys work together to fully explore your legal options. Whether we defend you against criminal charges or fight for compensation in a civil lawsuit, we zealously fight on your behalf.

Contact A Seasoned Litigator Today

If your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, our lawyers can seek to exclude the evidence from your criminal trial or help you pursue a civil rights lawsuit. However, it is important to act quickly. Call Huffman Butler & Mason, PLLC, at 901-410-0689 or book an appointment on our online scheduler.