Imagine driving to Katy from downtown Houston, on your way home from a long day at the office. As you exit off of I-10, you suddenly see red and blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror. You find a safe place to pull over and wait patiently for the police officer to approach the driver’s side window and briefly wonder why the traffic stop is even occurring.
You are pretty sure you were not speeding, at least not so much to warrant a stop. Maybe you have a tail light out. You even wonder if you forgot to signal when you were exiting the highway. Unfortunately, what you expect to be a routine traffic stop turns into something else completely when the officer asks you to step out of the car and then proceeds to start rifling through things.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is in place to protect U.S. citizens’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government and law enforcement agencies. In general, you should be able to walk down the street, drive your car or sit in your home without worry that a government agency will intrude upon your privacy without sufficient cause.
Search and seizure protections
The Fourth Amendment limits what a police officer can and cannot do in terms of search and seizure methods. For example, if a police officer stops you on the street, that does not automatically give him or her the right to search your person. Also, there are certain procedures that officers must follow in order to search items in which you expect a reasonable amount of privacy such as a backpack, luggage, your home or even where you work.
If a law enforcement agent violates prescribed procedures, any evidence collected could be inadmissible in court. Like with many other areas of criminal law, the amount of protection each individual is entitled to depends on the nature of the circumstances surrounding the arrest, the area searched and the search itself.
Violation of your rights
If criminal charges arise after a search and seizure, it is important to examine the procedures used by the police officers involved in order to determine if the search and seizure was legal. For example, if an officer did not have a warrant or probable cause before conducting a search and finding an illegal substance then subsequently arresting you, this could be a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Even if you confess to a crime, it could be tossed out because the arrest was illegal.
If you are facing criminal charges for drug possession, it is vital to know your rights and options. If an illegal search and seizure violated your Fourth Amendment rights, you might be able to successfully fight back against the charges.