Law enforcement must respect your rights, even when you are suspected of criminal wrongdoing. According to USCourts.gov, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from police misconduct related to searches and seizures of your home, your property, and your person.
Police often have the right to perform these searches, but that does not mean violations never occur. When you understand the Fourth Amendment and the rights it affords you, you can identify police wrongdoing and misconduct when it occurs. This guide explains how the Fourth Amendment applies in the following common situations.
Police cannot pull a vehicle over unless there is a reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation has taken place. For example, an officer would be within their right to stop your vehicle after you have run a red light or because a tail light is out. Once the vehicle has been stopped, the officer is also permitted to search it if there is probable cause that it contains evidence. Searches can include the use of a narcotics-sniffing dog, as well as a pat down of any people riding in the vehicle.
For a law enforcement official to stop a pedestrian on the street, they must have observed conduct that indicates a crime has taken place or is taking place. In this case, the officer is allowed to stop the person to ask questions relating to their suspicions.
In most cases, a home cannot be searched by law enforcement unless there is a warrant. Such warrantless searches are legal if you consent to the search of your property, or if a person living in the home is being arrested. Law enforcement is also allowed to conduct a search without a warrant if evidence is in plain view or if there are exigent circumstances, which means there is a reasonable belief that entering a home is necessary to prevent harm, stop a suspect from fleeing, or stop evidence from being destroyed.