The Fourth Amendment is designed to protect citizen’s privacy. Part of this amendment helps protect citizens from intrusion by the government into their lives including searching their homes, property, business or person. Lawmakers and the US court system have put legal safeguards into place so that officers can only interfere with a person’s privacy under certain circumstances and using specific methods.

Protection Provided by the Fourth Amendment

As far as it comes to criminal law, the Fourth Amendment and its protections from “search and seizure” extend to:

  • Law enforcement officers right to seize a person during a traffic stop or arrest
  • Police searches of various locations and for items in areas where an individual has the right to expect privacy

A person typically expects that their person, clothing, purse, vehicle, hotel room, place of business and house or apartment are examples of places people expect to remain private and free some search. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from searches and detentions. It also prevents items from being unlawfully seized and used as evidence in a criminal case. Each individual case is unique and the level of protection is determined by various factors.

When can the Fourth Amendment be applied?

There are certain situations in which the Fourth Amendment can be applied. One’s constitutional protection apply in situations such as:

  • Walking down the street and being stopped by police and questioned
  • Being pulled over for a minor traffic violation and the officer searches the vehicle
  • When a person is arrested
  • If an officer enters a person’s house to place them under arrest
  • If an officer enters a house or apartment to search for crime evidence
  • Officers enter a business to search for evidence of criminal activity
  • Officers confiscate a vehicle or other personal property

The scenarios that implicate the Fourth Amendment and officer’s obligation to protect individual’s Fourth Amendment rights are too numerous to name. However, officers cannot search or seize an individual or their property unless he has:

  • A valid arrest warrant or
  • A valid search warrant or
  • “probable cause” to believe the individual was involved in committing a crime