Within the United States Constitution, the Fourth Amendment calls for the protection of citizens against unreasonable searches or seizures by police officers. Of course, this kind of protection is only as good as a citizen’s knowledge of the rights that he or she has, unless a professional criminal defense lawyer in Savannah is working with them on their behalf. Police officers, as well as individuals, have protection under the Fourth Amendment as well. So when do Fourth Amendment rights apply, and when can a police officer perform a warrantless search?
How do Police Obtain a Warrant?
In order to acquire a warrant, an officer must have probable cause. Probable cause is determined based on whether or not a reasonable person with the same facts as an officer would deem an act criminal. In most cases, a warrant is required to perform a search, but there are exceptions to this rule.
When May an Officer Search Me on the Street without a Warrant?
A police officer may search you on the street on in a public place in two situations:
- Immediately following an arrest – This must be a physical arrest, where the suspect is actually taken into custody. During this search, an officer may seize items he or she deems as evidence that may be destroyed.
- For officer safety – This search is not as intrusive, and is sometimes called a “pat down.” This kind of search does not require probable cause, and the individual that is being searched does not have to be in custody, though they have to articulate reasonable suspicion. An officer may not reach in bags, pockets, or other places that are concealed unless they feel or see something that looks like a weapon. If nothing is found, the individual is allowed to walk away or continue walking. Walking away from an officer after a frisk where no weapons or drugs are founddoes not constitute an arrest.
If you believe that you have been unlawfully searched in public, or were arrested after walking away from an officer during a frisk that did not yield weapons or drugs, it is important that you contact a defense attorney to fight for your rights.
When May an Officer Search my Business or Home without a Warrant?
Typically, an officer may not enter a private building or home without a search warrant. However, there are exceptions:
- Hot pursuit – This occurs when police officers must follow an individual into a home that the suspect entered in an effort to lose officers while in a chase.
- Risk of destruction of evidence – This occurs when a suspect is trying to destroy evidence pertinent to their arrest.
- Potential to cause harm to another individual – This occurs when a suspect is attempting to harm another citizen, a police officer or him or herself.
After an arrest is made inside of a home, officers may do a sweep of the area to ensure that there is no further potential for danger, such as an individual hiding in order to attack. However, officers are not allowed to conduct a thorough search of the entire home. For instance, officers are not allowed to search drawers because they are too small for a person to hide in. They may, however, open a closet door and look inside.
When May an Officer Search my Automobile?
Georgia law allows officers to search vehicles much easier than private residences or businesses, as the only thing needed is probable cause that a connection to a crime exists. There is no warrant needed. Some warrantless search examples include:
- Anywhere contraband can be hidden – Trunks, glove compartments, underneath seats, backpacks.
- Contraband in “plain view” – Marijuana lying on the dashboard of a car.
- Immediately following an arrest, in some circumstances.
Protection under the Fourth Amendment
The power that law enforcement officers have comes with limits, despite what an officer may tell a defendant. The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect the rights of citizens while balancing those rights with those of the officer’s duty to protect the general public.
If you have been arrested or searched without a warrant and you feel that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, you need a seasoned attorney on your side with an in-depth knowledge of the law and the Constitution. O’Brien Law Firm PC will fight by your side aggressively, to ensure that your rights as a U.S citizen are upheld and respected.