Under the United States Constitution, you are provided many protections and right. One of the most heavily protected rights is the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment right reads:
“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.”
The right protects your privacy, and promises that your personal space and belongings will not be unreasonably searched. However, officers and government agents have the right to search your personal space and belongings under circumstances that make it reasonable.
Reasonable searches will be valid where officers can obtain a search warrant from judge, or where they feel that there is probable cause. Probable cause searches, without a search warrant, will be justified when there are exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances are situations in which if the officers waited to obtain a search warrant, the evidence could be destroyed, someone is about to commit a crime, or where they feel the suspect would get away.
For example, let’s say officer’s stop a driver for running a red light during the day. When officers step up to the vehicle the driver fully cooperates, provides officers with license and registration and explains that he is late for an important meeting and was not paying attention. The driver is wearing a suit, is apologetic and has a clean car. Officer’s ask the driver to step out of the car and search the entire care, including the glove compartment and the person’s briefcase in the backseat for drugs.
This would be a violation of the driver’s fourth amendment rights. It is daytime, the man is well dressed and all facts point to the fact that he is heading to work and is late for a meeting. There is no smell or signs that indicate the man is intoxicated and under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. The search is unreasonable and unwarranted and the officers have violated the driver’s rights to privacy.
In comparison, let’s consider the same scenario. However, this time it is nighttime, the driver is dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. He tells officers he is late to go somewhere, but pauses a lot between words, and forgets his train of thought. Additionally, when officers approach the vehicle the driver opens a window and fans out some smoke, and the car smells of strong marijuana. In this situation, the visible smoke, and the smell justify the suspicion that there may be drugs in the car. Officers search the car and the person’s contents. This is not an unreasonable search, like the previous example, because there is probable cause to believe that the driver had drugs in his possession which could be a criminal violation.
If your personal space or belongings have been searched, it may be unreasonable. A violation of your Fourth Amendment rights could lead to a dismissal of your case. Consult a knowledgeable San Diego Criminal Defense specialist to determine whether your case should be dismissed.