Contrary to popular opinion, the police don’t always need a warrant to search you because of the 4th amendment. As any defense attorney in Salt Lake City would tell you, the 4th amendment isn’t exactly a guaranteed right. With enough probable cause, law enforcement can search you whenever they want. Granted, these situations need to be specific or they can lose their case against you.
One of these situations falls under the exclusionary rule: where evidence obtained illegally cannot be used against you in court. And while this usually applies to criminal cases, it can also be used on misdemeanors as well. So how does it work?
How Police Start a Search
First, there is some merit to thinking that police need a warrant. According to the 4th amendment, citizens have a right to privacy that cannot be violated without probable cause. So most of the time, police will have to get a warrant before searching you. Ideally, this warrant should contain what the police are searching for and where they expect to find it.
However, if they have probable cause (or strong overwhelming evidence that you are doing something wrong) this warrant isn’t needed or even retroactively awarded in some cases. This is called a “reasonable search”. And of course, warrants and reasonable search clauses don’t stop the police from bringing you in when they catch you in the act.
So How Does the Exclusionary Rule Work?
The exclusionary rule states that any unlawfully obtained evidence (for example, evidence obtained by having a warrantless search without reasonable cause) cannot be used against you in court. If you have been illegally searched or the warrant issued wasn’t for the thing that you got caught for, courts will generally rule that evidence as inadmissible before a trial.
Exceptions to This Rule
Of course, there are cases where this rule doesn’t apply. This includes things like witness testimonies and public safety exceptions. Even in cases where the Miranda Rights are violated, statements and evidence that threaten the public and/or impeach the defendant’s credibility are permissible in court.
Note that while the Miranda Rights are a shield against unlawful actions by law enforcement, it does fall under the “reasonableness standard” found in the 4th that will help decide whether or not this evidence falls under the exclusionary rule. So while citizens are protected from illegal searches by the 4th, the basis on what is legal can vary depending on the situation. It does fall under the officer or law enforcement agent acting to make that judgment, but it’s also crucial for the citizens to understand their rights.
The 4th Amendment was designed to protect citizens from illegal acts from law enforcement, both during the search and in the court. The exclusionary rule is an iron-clad example of this, but it’s crucial to remember that these rulings don’t always apply. Understanding the scenarios in which you can invoke your rights is critical to not only have a more robust justice system but also to keep in balance the power that law enforcement has over private citizens.