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How does an expectation of privacy relate to police searches?

On Behalf of | Oct 6, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides people with a variety of rights. One of these rights protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is why search warrants are so often required.

In order for a judge to issue a search warrant, there must be probable cause that a crime has occurred. In limited cases, police officers can search someone without a warrant. These typically involve getting the person’s consent to search, although there are exceptions to this rule.

What is the expectation of privacy?

People have the right to privacy in certain circumstances. Because of the challenges of searches, the United States Supreme Court developed a test to help determine whether a person has a true expectation of privacy. 

The first question on this test is whether the person had the expectation that a place or thing or would remain private or not. The second question is whether that expectation is objective, which means that a normal, average person would have the same expectation. 

Together, these show that what’s considered private to one person might not be private to another person. The standard to determine if a search warrant is needed or not hinges on what the average person would expect in a situation. 

Based on these questions, it’s reasonable to think a search warrant is needed to search a bedroom nightstand drawer, but that one likely isn’t needed to look at the coffee table that’s visible from the front door. 

Search and seizure laws apply to everyone in this country. Evidence that’s obtained in violation of these laws can’t be used in a criminal trial. Working closely with someone who’s familiar with criminal matters can help you to evaluate all defense strategy options.