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Fourth Amendment Rights

Friday / January 30, 2015

Most Americans somewhat understand what the Constitution stands for and who it is intended to protect. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to figure out which Amendments within the Constitution are more important than others and which pertain to you.


The Fourth Amendment is one of the most significant components of the Constitution. It protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. However, this does not mean that the government is never allowed to conduct searches and seizures; the Fourth Amendment only pertains to searches and seizures deemed unreasonable under the law.


So, what is reasonable versus unreasonable under the law? The courts have created a balancing test to figure this out: on one side of the scale is the intrusion on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights (against searches and seizures) and on the other side of the scale are the legitimate government interests (health, safety, and welfare). For example, if the government somehow infringed on your Fourth Amendment rights, but for the purpose of public safety, the infringement on your rights may be reasonable if the need for that public safety is greater than your Fourth Amendment rights in the balancing test.


There are many different ways and places that a search and/or seizure can take place. It can happen in the home, in the car, on the street (stop-and-frisk), consensual searches, and investigatory stops. Searches and seizures are initially labeled “unreasonable,” unless an exception exists. Some of the most prevalent cases are searches and seizures within a car.


In Arizona v. Gant, 216 Ariz. 1, 7, 162 P.3d 640, 646 (2007), the Court found that officers are allowed to conduct a lawful search of any area of the car in which evidence might be found; this is only allowed if the officers have probable cause to believe that the car contains some kind of evidence of criminal activity. Even as a passenger in a car, you may claim a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but you must have “a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place.” Rakas v. Illinois, 99 S.Ct. 421, 430 (1978).


Another exception to the rule against searches and seizures is of people in general: when an officer notices unusual behavior that leads the officer to reasonably conclude that criminal activity may be afoot, the officer is allowed to stop the suspicious person and ask reasonable questions in order to confirm the officer’s suspicions. Terry v. Ohio, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1884 (1968). This exception goes to the stop-and-frisk rule: an officer can pat down the suspicious person to check for weapons (and only weapons) for the purpose of officer safety.


Although there are many aspects to the Fourth Amendment, along with a few exceptions, you still have Fourth Amendment rights that must be protected. After all, the entire purpose of the Constitution is to protect you from unlawful searches and seizures by the government. If you or anyone you know has been charged with a crime, immediately seek an attorney’s help to ensure the accused’s rights are protected. To schedule a no obligation consultation with my office, visit my website at: or by calling me at 480-331-7568.


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