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The Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless house searches

We have spoken about the Fourth Amendment several times in this blog. One of the cornerstones of American criminal procedure, the amendment provides us with a fundamental limitation on the government’s power to search our homes, bodies and property for evidence that we committed a crime.

By generally requiring a search warrant, the Fourth Amendment obligates law enforcement officials to get permission from a neutral magistrate before conducting most police searches. The amendment says that a judge considering a warrant request cannot issue one, unless the government agency requesting it has “particularly describ[ed] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In addition, the government must show probable cause that the evidence sought will be found in the location to be searched.

Exceptions exist to this requirement, but in general it is understood that police cannot conduct random searches of people’s homes, even those they have a “hunch” committed a crime. When a court finds that a warrantless search did not fit into any of the permissible exceptions, the judge usually will throw out any evidence seized during the illegal search as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Recently, a man sentenced to 29 years in prison for his alleged role in a fatal 2011 motorcycle accident won a legal victory, when his state’s court of appeals ruled that police did not have the right to enter his home. According to KOB-TV, the appellate court ruled that the warrantless search and arrest did not have any legal justification.

Police found the man lying in bed, intoxicated. His truck had just been involved in a hit-and-run accident that resulted in the death of a man. They arrested the man and seized evidence, the appellate court said that the officers had no reason not to seek a warrant first. The defendant says that his truck was stolen and that he was not involved in the crash.

Without the assistance of an experienced defense attorney, it is very difficult to assert your Fourth Amendment rights, or indeed any other civil rights.

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