Your Fourth Amendment rights protect you against arbitrary searches and seizures. However, the law allows police in certain circumstances to search you without the authorization of a warrant.
This theory of “probable cause” is a tool that officers can use to investigate a crime that they believe is in progress or has just occurred. It is crucial to understand how this exception to your constitutional right works and how it might apply to your situation.
What determines a lawful search and seizure?
According to FindLaw, the Fourth Amendment explicitly states that you have the right “to be secure…against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This outlines an important distinction: The police may still conduct a search if they believe that you did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time.
What determines the expectation of privacy?
For a court to decide if you had a reasonable expectation of privacy that would have made a search illegal, it will apply two tests.
The first determines if you can establish that you genuinely believed the object or location searched should have been private. Your home is often a perfect example: You believe you have the right to conduct yourself in your home free of unjust scrutiny.
The second expands the expectation to what society believes ought to be private. This provides a check to the first test by disallowing random scenarios that the general public would never agree should be private.
Where am I guaranteed the right to privacy?
The reasonable and objective expectation of privacy is almost always open to at least some interpretation; however, your home nearly always falls under the definition of private. Many tests in courts have also qualified personal carriers such as briefcases or wallets as locations where you can expect privacy. The waters become muddier concerning your car and any object that you discard as trash, regardless of whether it originated from a private location like your house.