What Constitutes Search and Seizure under the 4th Amendment

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states 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.

For more than two centuries, the courts have issued rulings more specifically defining the terms and constraints established under the 4th Amendment. This blog post provides an overview of the accepted laws governing search and seizure in the United States.

What is a Search?

The protections of the 4th Amendment only apply when there has been a search, as defined by the courts. Current law, established in 1967, holds that a search occurs when two factors are present: the person subjected to the search expects privacy in the thing searched, and that expectation is reasonable. The types of property that can be subject to search are extensive, including home, outbuildings, motor vehicle, boat, office, financial records, computer files, or business documents. The 4th Amendment has also been used to challenge wiretapping and urinalysis as illegal searches, as well as breathalyzer or blood alcohol tests.

The protections under the 4th Amendment have been held to apply only to governmental action. Accordingly, it does not apply to private searches.

Is a Warrant Always Necessary?

As a general rule, a search or seizure without a valid warrant is considered unreasonable and, therefore, unconstitutional. In limited circumstances, however, where a search is deemed not to be unreasonable, police may conduct a search without a warrant. These situations include:

  • Where there is incriminating evidence “in plain view”
  • Where the suspect consents to a search
  • Where law enforcement officers reasonably believe that someone’s safety is at risk, or that criminal activity is actually underway

Contact Attorney Wayne Punshon

My name is Wayne Punshon. Before opening my private practice a decade ago, I spent more than 22 years as a Pennsylvania state prosecutor. I have a comprehensive understanding of the criminal laws in Pennsylvania, as well as the rules of criminal procedure. Let me use my considerable knowledge, skill, experience and resources to protect your constitutional rights.

To schedule a free initial consultation, contact me online or call my office at 610-565-8412. I accept credit cards and will meet with you outside of traditional business hours, if necessary.