Fourth Amendment Rights and Warrantless Searches

For a 4th Amendment violation to occur, there must be government conduct. This usually occurs through police actions. Also, some items are so public in nature that they do not carry a reasonable expectation of privacy. Generally, garbage, bank accounts, and odors emanating from your luggage are public in nature and do not implicate 4th amendment protection. If the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area and item searched, then the police need a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate supported by probable cause and particularity in order to conduct a lawful search. However, there are a few exceptions to the warrant requirement that are considered lawful searches and will not be excluded in a court of law.

The first exception to the warrant requirement is known as “Exigent Circumstances”. These scenarios occur when the police are in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon or when there is evanescent evidence: evidence that burns up in your body such as blood alcohol level or balloons filled with drugs. Another important exception to the warrant requirement is a search incident to arrest. Due to concerns for officer safety and the preservation of evidence, the law allows a search incident to arrest of the individual so long as the arrest is lawful and the search is contemporaneous in time and place with the arrest. Moreover, the search is limited in geographic scope to within the wingspan of the arrested individual. A third important warrantless search exception deals with automobiles. If the officer has probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of a crime then they are permitted to search the entire car. A fourth exception to the warrant requirement is the famous “Plain View” doctrine. The officers must have lawful access to the place from which the item can be plainly seen, lawful access to the object itself, and the criminality of the object must be readily apparent. A fifth exception to the warrant requirement occurs when an individual consents. This consent must be voluntary, not the product of police coercion. The person must have the authority to consent to the area or item searched. A sixth exception to the warrant requirement deals with Terry stops. Under the famous Terry decision, officers have a right to stop an individual if they have reasonable suspicion necessary to determine if criminal activity is afoot. If when stopping them the officer reasonably believes that the individual is armed and dangerous, officers are permitted to frisk the individual for weapons. If you detect contraband without manipulating the object, then the officer is permitted to seize this contraband as evidence of a crime. These exceptions are the main exceptions to the warrant requirement and permit law enforcement officers to conduct lawful searches absent the existence of a warrant supported by probable cause.