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Understanding the ins and outs of searches and seizures in criminal defense is vital. While law enforcement can conduct searches to gather evidence related to suspected illegal activities, they must have a warrant or legal justification. Otherwise, they risk violating an individual’s rights. Now, which amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures?

Having a grasp of these processes empowers individuals to handle interactions with law enforcement more confidently. By knowing their rights, individuals can better shield themselves from potential infringements and ensure that any evidence collected is obtained legally. We’ll go over this information in this blog.

cartoon of a police conducting a search


Which Amendment Protects Us From Illegal Searches & Seizures?


The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

a gavel placed on a document and american flag


In criminal law, the Fourth Amendment is which protects us from illegal searches and seizures. It safeguards individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. These protections cover:

  • Physical apprehension or “seizure” of a person through stops or arrests.
  • Searches of places where individuals have a legitimate expectation of privacy.

The Fourth Amendment ensures that searches and detentions follow specific guidelines and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence. The level of protection varies depending on the nature of the detention, characteristics of the searched place, and the circumstances of the search.

Typically, the government needs a valid search warrant to search individuals or their property. Warrantless searches, especially in homes, are often illegal, although exceptions exist. The warrant requirement upholds citizens’ rights and shields them from unjust searches as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Knowing which amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures can really help you out.


When Is Unreasonable Search and Seizure?


Unreasonable search and seizure occur when law enforcement conducts a search without a warrant, consent, or probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is present. These actions violate your Fourth Amendment rights, which safeguard your privacy under the U.S. Constitution.

To determine if you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, a two-part test is often applied:

  • Did you believe you were entitled to privacy?
  • Is society likely to view your expectation of privacy as reasonable?

For instance, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home but not when discarding trash in a public bin. Law enforcement usually needs a search warrant signed by a judge and supported by probable cause. However, there are exceptions:

  • Hot pursuit: Police can arrest and search suspects fleeing a felony without a warrant.
  • Plain view: Officers can seize incriminating items in plain sight during a lawful encounter.
  • Exigent circumstances: Warrantless searches are allowed if delaying could result in evidence destruction or public danger.

It’s important to note that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to private security unless they act as agents of law enforcement. If a security guard searches your belongings without a warrant, evidence found may not be suppressed as a Fourth Amendment violation. Now that we’ve gone over which amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures, it’s also important to know what happens when those rights have been violated.

police officers searching a vehicle


What Happens If Your Fourth Amendment Rights Are Violated?


When your Fourth Amendment rights are violated, any evidence gathered from the unlawful search cannot be used against you. This is known as the exclusionary rule. Additionally, evidence considered “fruit of the poisonous tree,” obtained directly from the illegal search, is also inadmissible in court, even if collected separately.

For instance, if the police unlawfully searched your home and found a diary revealing the location of stolen property, any subsequent search leading to the recovery of the stolen items would be deemed illegal. This is because the discovery of the property stemmed from the initial unlawful search, making it “fruit of the poisonous tree” and thus inadmissible in court.

police officers arresting a man


Kirakosian Law & The 4th Amendment 


If you believe you’ve been subjected to an unlawful search and seizure, a criminal defense lawyer can help you challenge it. Your lawyer will review how the police obtained the evidence against you. If it was obtained illegally, they will challenge its admissibility in court. Successfully doing so might eliminate the need for a trial.

the 4th amendment


You have the right to contest the legality of a search or seizure in court. Seek legal counsel with Kirakosian Law in order to explore your options and pursue any necessary compensation.

Knowing which amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures and understanding California’s rules regarding searches and seizures helps you defend your constitutional rights. It will be easier for you to deal with law enforcement and make sure that any searches or seizures are done legally if you are aware of your rights and responsibilities.