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What Is the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

Posted in Criminal Defense on June 25, 2019

Every citizen of the United States has certain rights according to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. This right protects people from invasions of privacy in certain settings, such as in the privacy of the individual’s home. If a police officer or another party infringes upon the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, the individual may have grounds for a claim against the intruder.

Where Does One Have a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

The Fourth Amendment only grants an individual the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas; anywhere a reasonable person would expect at least some level of privacy. These may include homes, restrooms, hotel rooms, phone booths, protected areas in jailhouses, and vehicles, in some jurisdictions.

If an individual is in a place where he or she can hold a reasonable expectation of privacy, that person can expect no searches of person or property without a valid warrant. Places an individual may not have the right to this expectation may include public spaces such as banks, schools, and sports arenas. Other areas where the police may have the right to conduct a criminal search without a warrant are curbsides, airports, and unfenced areas near a home.

The Terms of the Fourth Amendment

Knowing the exact language of the right to the reasonable expectation of privacy according to the Fourth Amendment is important for any citizen who may be dealing with an infringement upon this right. The text of the amendment states that no one shall violate the right of an individual to be secure in his or her person, home, paper, and effects. It goes on to describe this security as the right against unreasonable search and seizure and the right against warrants except under probable cause. These are the rights that guarantee an individual a reasonable expectation of privacy.

What Is Unreasonable Search and Seizure?

An unreasonable search and seizure refers to the searching of a person or personal property that comes without probable cause to conduct the search. If a law enforcement officer does not have good reason to conduct the search, or a warrant to do so, he or she cannot force the individual to cooperate with the search. The law enforcement officer also cannot seize any goods he or she may find during an unlawful search.

If the law enforcement officer is guilty of an unreasonable search or seizure, the defense may get the courts to render the evidence inadmissible during a criminal case. Since the law enforcement officer broke a rule of the Fourth Amendment, he or she will not be able to use anything found during the violation against the defendant in a court of law. The only time an officer may conduct a search and/or seizure is with probable cause or a warrant to do so.

Probable cause refers to a good faith belief that the suspect has committed a crime, based on evidence that confirms the belief. If the officer is conducting the search using a warrant, the warrant must specifically describe the place the officer can search, as well as the individual or property the officer has the right to seize. The warrant may not apply to other areas or items it does not list in writing.

If you believe a police officer has infringed upon your right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in California, work with a local criminal defense lawyer to strengthen your criminal defense.