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Your protections under the Fourth Amendment

Being arrested and charged with a crime is a frightening experience. The police have great power, and prosecutors have enormous resources at their hands. You can almost feel their weight pressed against you and feel you are powerless against them. Fortunately, California and federal laws provide you with protections. Some of the most important of them stem from the U.S. Constitution itself.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides some of the most important of these protections. Among other things, it protects the people from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Over the centuries, the courts have often struggled to pin down a definition for what is “unreasonable” in a search or an arrest, sometimes expanding its meaning and sometimes limiting it. Today, this protection is understood to mean the police must have a warrant before they can arrest a person or search their property. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.

The question of whether a search was reasonable or not depends on where it happened. Generally, courts find that in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as inside their home, the police must have a warrant supported by probable cause before they can begin a search. (There are some exceptions, such as in an emergency situation.) Courts find that the police have more freedom to search people and their property when it is out in public.

Why this is important to you

All this may sound very abstract, but if you are facing criminal charges, it can make a big difference in your case. That’s because your constitutional rights are at stake. If you can show that the police violated your rights under the Fourth Amendment when they searched your property, you may convince the court that any evidence they obtained during that search must be suppressed. This means it cannot be used against you in court. Without this evidence, the prosecution may not be able to win a conviction against you. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain how your constitutional protections may apply to the unique circumstances of your case.

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