Fourth Amendment – Searches and the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. We have written blogs on the subject in the past. Today, we are going to explore this topic a little deeper. Sure, it is your right that the government not carry out unreasonable searches on your person or property. But what does this cover and where does these Fourth Amendment protections end? Consider this. A search occurs when the government violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. So, to have Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, you must first have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, there is no constitutional protection regarding searches. We will break this down in this blog.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
In order to have a reasonable expectation of privacy for Fourth Amendment purposes, one must have a subjective expectation of privacy that is objectively reasonable.
This expectation of privacy must be objectively reasonable. Meaning, an ordinary reasonable person would find that it is reasonable to have an expectation of privacy over the content in question. For example, the Supreme Court has found that a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to trash that they have discarded and placed on the street. The Supreme Court has litigated this issue many times and has made specific findings.
The Supreme Court says that what a person “knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection…. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”
Generally, the Supreme Court has held that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy over their bodies, homes, automobiles, business offices, and personal property.
However, individuals ordinarily do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in things such as garbage left at the roadside for collection, the smell of luggage, vehicle paint, vehicle location, land visible from a public place, and other places and things that are in plain view or clearly visible out in the open. Additionally, houseguests do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the homes they are visiting, particularly if they do not stay overnight. The same goes for passengers in a vehicle – these individuals typically do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the vehicle. You must have a possessory interest in the home or motor vehicle to have an expectation of privacy.
As you can see, the Fourth Amendment and the protections that it provides are not always as simple as one may assume. “Constitutional rights” is a vast and intricate area of law that has volumes of information available.
If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina or South Carolina, contact a criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options.