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Fourth Amendment Rights

Passionate Attorney Handles Violations of Fourth Amendment Rights in Montgomery, AL

Reliable representation to protect from illegal search and seizure

The Fourth Amendment provides citizens with essential protections against overzealous or corrupt law enforcement by restricting the circumstances that allow police to perform a search and to seize property. Much progress has been made in getting law enforcement to follow the rules the courts have laid down, but unfortunately, there are still far too many examples of police behavior that constitute harassment. If you have been subjected to an unreasonable traffic stop or made to endure a baseless search of your person, car or home, McGuire & Associates can help. We can protect you from criminal prosecution that might result from an illegal search, and in some cases, obtain monetary damages for the humiliation you’ve suffered.

How the Fourth Amendment provides for your security

To protect the public, law enforcement must have a reasonable right to search people and premises to discover evidence of criminal activity. However, without the Fourth Amendment, agents of the government could simply come into your home, turn everything upside down, and take away anything they regarded as evidence. To prevent that, the Fourth Amendment puts several restrictions on the government’s power to search a person or premises:

  • Searches and seizures must be reasonable — The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but does not state what makes a search reasonable. Generally, courts have decided that a search is reasonable if the authority has obtained a warrant or an exception to the warrant rule applies.
  • Warrant requirements — A warrant is permission from a judge to conduct a search or make an arrest. To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement must fulfill three requirements:
    • “Probable cause” exists. This means a person has a reasonable belief that a search will uncover evidence of criminal activity.
    • Oath or affirmation. A person must be willing to swear to the facts that give rise to the reasonable belief.
    • Particular description. Law enforcement can only conduct a search within a limited scope. For example, a warrant to search 110 Baker Street cannot be used to also search 112 Baker Street.

Although the Fourth Amendment has existed since the U.S. Constitution was ratified, it did not always afford much protection. An unreasonable search might be technically illegal, but if police happened to find evidence of a crime, there was nothing to stop them from using it in court. This created a perverse incentive for police officers to violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. Fortunately, the Supreme Court put a stop to that in 1914, by adopting a remedy called the exclusionary rule. From that point forward, when an illegal search produced evidence, the court could rule that evidence inadmissible.

The gray area of exceptions for warrantless searches

Most Fourth Amendment cases arise from warrantless searches. Law enforcement claims the search fits the exception, and the defense claims the facts do not support the exception. Exceptions to the warrant requirement include:

  • Consent — If the person consents to a search, the police don’t need a warrant. However, the person who grants consent must have the authority to do so.
  • Plain view — If an officer can plainly see evidence of criminal activity from a vantage point outside the premises, the officer can seize the evidence.
  • Exigency — If an officer has a reasonable belief that someone inside a premises is committing a crime or destroying evidence, the officer may enter the premises to intervene.
  • Motor vehicle exceptions — Because a car is readily mobile, exigency always exists. If an officer has probable cause that a search will disclose evidence of criminal activity, a search can proceed without a warrant.
  • Searches incident to a lawful arrest — When officers make an arrest of a suspect, they have a right to a limited search to makes sure the suspect is not armed.

These days, Fourth Amendment disputes often arise over traffic stops and stop-and-frisk actions that are the result of racial profiling rather than reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

However, the worst-case scenario can be a legal but mistaken search that prompts armed DEA agents to break down your door and point semiautomatic weapons at your family. In such a case, a search can be unreasonable even if the agency has a warrant. The courts must judge whether the information the agency had was reliable enough for a prudent person to swear out a warrant.

Trust our civil rights law firm to uphold your Fourth Amendment rights in Montgomery, AL

If you have been the target of an illegal search, you can rely on McGuire & Associates to assert your civil rights and get results. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 334-651-8891 or contact our Montgomery office online. Our office is located at 31 Clayton Street, convenient to I-85 and I-65.

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