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Understanding Your Fourth Amendment Rights

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski
police dog checking a suitcase

Filmmaker Albert Maysles once said “Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance”, a sentiment perhaps never more obvious than when the government invades your right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is an important piece of legislation that defines our right to privacy and security. In recent decades, courts around the country have dealt with an increasing number of cases involving the Fourth Amendment and its implications. While it is an important law, many people do not understand what it means or the extent to which it affects our lives. Here is what you need to know to understand the Fourth Amendment.

The Castle Doctrine

The Fourth Amendment establishes a citizen’s right to a secure person and property, as well as the means and reasons for defending them. In essence, the Fourth Amendment says that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy from the government regarding themselves and their property. More famously, the amendment establishes the basis for the Castle Doctrine, which means that you have the right to protect yourself and your property from harm in your home.

In some states, the Castle Doctrine became a formal law on its own supported by the Fourth Amendment. In a nutshell, you can use whatever force is reasonable to protect yourself from other people that would harm you as long as you are in a place where you would normally expect to be secure. Examples of this type of law being used involve home invasions where someone injures or kills a home invader. Since that person owns the home and someone came in trying to hurt them, the homeowner was justified and can’t be held responsible for hurting the intruder.

Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment is also used as the basis for how police conduct searches and seizures. Since you have a reasonable expectation of privacy and security in given situations, the police have to have an overriding reason to violate those expectations. The standards of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are prime examples of that. The police have to have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or evidence of probable cause to search you or your property. Probable cause is explicitly created by the Fourth Amendment as a safeguard against police abuse, while reasonable suspicion was created as a lesser standard to guide police in the effort of finding probable cause. Both require some form of evidence or rational explanation for violating your Fourth Amendment rights.

Warrants and Evidence

When it comes to police searches and seizures, there are official ways of obtaining permission to do a search. If there is probable cause in a case, police can get a warrant from a credible judge. To do so, they must prove that there is probable cause with tangible evidence and a reasonable explanation for the need for a search. Without some form of evidence that they can use to prove a need for a search, they cannot get a warrant and any search would be illegal.

This process is meant to protect civilians from unlawful police searches and to protect you in case an unlawful search was performed. However, there are cases where a warrant can be obtained after a search or seizure. These cases are very rare and require an overriding and blatantly obvious need to conduct the search before a warrant can be made. You can see these type of cases involving terrorism or child abductions, where time is a critical factor and waiting for a warrant could lead to a disaster.

With 6 years of experience as a Harris County prosecutor and 12 years of experience representing clients in a variety of family, domestic, and criminal cases, past president of the Montgomery County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Attorney Andrea Kolski has the background and experience you need to win your case. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call Nonstop Justice today at 832-381-3430.

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