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Your Right to Be Free From Unreasonable Search or Seizure

Search and Seizure
The 4th Amendment provides everyone with protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The 4th Amendment also requires that a court find probable cause before issuing a search warrant. The courts have consistently held that these rights only apply if a person has “a legitimate expectation of privacy” in the place or thing to be searched. To determine whether such expectation of privacy existed, the court will ask the following questions:

  • Did you actually expect some degree of privacy?
  • Was your expectation objectively reasonable? Is society willing to recognize it as such?

Based on the unique circumstances of each case, the court may determine that you either had no expectation of privacy—perhaps you allowed unlimited access to the place or thing—or that your expectation wasn’t reasonable. If you fail to meet the test, any location—home, car, boat, office, bank records, safe deposit box, trash barrel—may be subject to a legal search.

To establish probable cause, the courts have held that police officers must be able to point to objective facts. An officer does not need the factual evidence necessary to prove a case in court, but it must be more than a mere suspicion. The determination of probable cause must be made by a judge, not by a law enforcement officer.

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