Police and other law enforcement agencies have an interest in investigating and preventing crime. Citizens have an interest in protecting the privacy of their homes and their personal property. How do we balance these interests?
One way is search warrants, and the requirement that police officers demonstrate probable cause before they can search or seize someone’s property.
The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects Americans “against unreasonable searches and seizures” and recognizes their right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.”
This language creates a general obligation for law enforcement personnel to obtain a warrant before searching you or your property.
The Fourth Amendment also requires that law enforcement provide probable cause to obtain a search warrant. This means that officers must demonstrate a reasonable belief that the search will reveal evidence of a crime and the warrant must list the specific location of the search and items for which officers want to search.
Whether a warrant is issued is based on judicial review. A judge will determine if law enforcement has demonstrated probable cause for the search and met its burden of specificity before issuing the warrant.
It’s important to know that the owner of the property or subject of the search does not have a right to be present during this proceeding or have an opportunity to challenge the warrant before the court issues it. However, you may argue that officers misled the judge or that the judge improperly granted the search warrant in later proceedings.
There are a few exceptions to the search warrant requirement when law enforcement may conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant. These include:
Search warrants are one way to balance a citizen’s constitutional rights and privacy interests with the government’s crime-fighting concerns. To protect their rights, people should know that police officers generally must get a valid search warrant before they conduct a search. And they should also be aware that there are exceptions to that rule.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified fourth amendment unreasonable search & seizure rights lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact an attorney in your area from our directory to discuss your specific legal situation.