What is the Fourth Amendment and How Does it Related to Defense Strategies?

Anyone who has been charged with a criminal offense in Rochester, New York should know that they have protections under both state and federal law. You have rights when the police stop you and search you, when a warrant is served, when you are being questioned by the police, when you are detained by a law enforcement official, when you are arrested, and when you are put on trial. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people against unlawful search and seizure. When law enforcement officials violate the Fourth Amendment, it may be possible to have all charges dropped or to cite that violation in order to beat the criminal charges you are facing.

The Fourth Amendment is powerful, and it can be relevant to many different types of criminal defense strategies, including both misdemeanor and felony cases. Some common types of criminal charges where a Fourth Amendment violation may be part of a defense strategy can include but are not limited to theft crimes, drug crimes, DWI cases, violent crimes, internet crimes, and many white collar crimes. We want to tell you more about the Fourth Amendment and how it relates to defense strategies for criminal defense cases in and around Rochester, NY.

What is the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment reads as follows:

“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.” 

On a basic level, the Fourth Amendment is aimed at protecting individual privacy and an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable searches of their persons and their property, and unreasonable seizure of any property on their persons or in their homes, cars, businesses, and other spaces.

Requirements of Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

You may have heard that the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure, but this can be difficult to fully appreciate if you do not understand what an unreasonable search or seizure looks like. Various cases that have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court have addressed what an unreasonable search and seizure looks like, and those cases have provided information that helps to clarify when a Fourth Amendment violation may have occurred.

In order for a police officer to stop someone lawfully under the Fourth Amendment, that officer must have “reasonable suspicion.” Reasonable suspicion is the lowest level of authority, and it does not allow an officer to search a person, but only to make a stop. A stop can refer to a traffic stop, or the stop of a person walking on the street, for example. Reasonable suspicion is also what an officer must have to conduct a stop-and-frisk. The U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio (1968) clarified that an officer only needs reasonable suspicion for a stop-and-frisk.

To search a car or a home lawfully, an officer either must have a lawfully issued warrant or “probable cause.” To be clear, probable cause is more than reasonable suspicion.

Of course, if an officer has probable cause or a warrant, a stop is also reasonable. If an officer did not have reasonable suspicion (and no warrant) and made a stop, or if an officer searched your person or your property without a lawful warrant or probable cause, your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated.

Examples of Situations Where a Fourth Amendment Violation May Have Occurred

If you were arrested for a criminal offense and charged with a crime, your Fourth Amendment rights could have been violated. Common situations where Fourth Amendment violations occur include but are not limited to:

  • Person stopped by the police while walking outside;
  • Person stopped for a traffic violation and their vehicle is searched without their permission;
  • Person’s home is searched by officers without a warrant and without permission;
  • Person’s place of business is searched by officers without a warrant and without permission; or
  • Person’s property is taken by officers without a warrant and without permission.

A Rochester, NY Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help with Your Defense

If you believe your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated, or if you need assistance more broadly when it comes to preparing a defense strategy tailored to the specific facts of your case, one of the experienced Rochester criminal defense lawyers at our firm can help. At King Law, we are committed to providing aggressive defenses to clients in a wide variety of criminal defense matters, from DWI and misdemeanor cases to felony charges for violent crimes. Contact King Law today online or call us at 585-270-8882 to learn more about how we can assist with your Rochester criminal defense.


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