The U.S. Constitution Limits Governmental Powers

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."


        The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.  It was adopted as a response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, which is a type of general search warrant, in the American Revolution.  Search and arrest should be limited in scope according to specific information supplied to the issuing court, usually by a law enforcement officer, who has sworn by it.

    In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment applies to the states by way of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    In Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment's protections do not apply when the searched party lacks a "reasonable expectation of privacy".

    The Supreme Court has also ruled that certain searches and seizures violated the Fourth Amendment even when a warrant was properly granted.

    What this means in general is that a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) can't simply stroll into your bedroom and start rooting around in your dresser looking for evidence of a crime to charge you with.  The Fourth Amendment limits police power.

    One way courts enforce the Fourth Amendment is with the exclusionary rule.  The rule provides that evidence obtained through a violation of the Fourth Amendment is generally not admissible by the prosecution during the defendant's criminal trial.

    The Court adopted the exclusionary rule in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), prior to which all evidence, no matter how seized, could be admitted in court.  Additionally, in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920) and Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338 (1939), the Court ruled that tips resulting from illegally obtained evidence are also inadmissible in trials as fruit of the poisonous tree.  The rule serves primarily to deter police officers from willfully violating a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights.  The rationale behind the exclusionary rule is that if the police know evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used to convict someone of a crime, they will not violate it.   The rationale doesn't always keep police from searching without a warrant, though.  If you've experienced a warrantless search, contact us.

    In Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949), the Court rejected incorporation of the exclusionary rule by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.  However, in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), the Court explicitly overruled Wolf and made the Fourth Amendment (including the exclusionary rule) applicable in state proceedings as an essential part of criminal procedure.

    This isn't intended to be an exhaustive review of Constitutional Law pertaining to your 4th Amendment rights.  There are a huge number of exceptions, exclusions and qualifications, and there will be more cases in the future - especially with application of the Patriot Act, and Homeland Security's conduct.

    However, if you were involved in a warrantless search and subsequently charged with a crime based on evidence seized, you are going to need an experienced lawyer to represent you in Court.  We have successfully challenged warrantless searches and had Felony charges completely dismissed prior to Preliminary Hearing.  If your 4th Amendment rights have truly been violated, we can help.


        For additional information, or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us, or call us at 707-251-3979.  Our office is open Monday through Friday, from 8 am until 5 pm, and we are available by appointment in the evenings and on weekends.  Our 1st Floor office at the corner of Coombs and Pearl is ramped and handicapped accessible.  We are across the street from free public parking, and on the diagonal from Kohl's Department Store in downtown Napa.