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4 questions teen offenders may have about the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment helps protect the privacy of U.S. citizens, regardless of age, gender, race or other factors. Under it, police must have reasonable suspicion to search homes, make arrests, and take other actions. In many cases, they also require a warrant, handed out by a judge, before acting.

As a young person accused of a crime, you may be wondering if the authorities violated your rights at any point. After all, this is likely new to you and things happen quickly. In the moment, perhaps you didn't realize the police weren't acting lawfully. Now you have questions, such as:

1. Does an unlawful seizure only apply to items you possess?

No. Though it's often used this way, an arrest is technically a seizure, as well. Even if you have nothing on you, police can violate your rights by making the arrest illegally. This may happen when the confrontation starts without any reason to believe you've broken the law.

2. Where does the Fourth Amendment protect you from a search?

Police can't search anywhere that you have a "legitimate expectation of privacy." This is a broad term, but typically applies to things like homes, apartments, clothing, hotel rooms, vehicles, and the like. Searching you without reason is also illegal.

There are ways for the police to search without a warrant. For example, if they knock on the door and you invite them in, they can look at things that are in plain view. This means they could seize drugs on a kitchen table, but they couldn't go into your bedroom and find them in a dresser drawer without a warrant.

3. Can police still use evidence from an illegal search?

There are exceptions but evidence found after an illegal search typically isn't permitted in court. In some cases, no other evidence exists. For example, if the police illegally searched your car and found illegal drugs, those drugs couldn't be used - even though they were clearly in your possession. This is one reason the court may drop the charges.

4. Can searches happen without a warrant?

Yes, they can. An officer may have probable cause stemming from various factors. For example, officers could see you swerving in your lane and then have probable cause to believe you're under the influence while driving. They can then pull you over and talk to you, and it may become clear that you were using illegal drugs, prompting a search. However, they cannot pull cars over randomly, just to talk to the drivers and attempt to craft a case that way.


Again, this all happens very quickly in real life. You may not even have realized your rights were being violated, especially if you've never had any problems with the police before. You may think they stereotyped you because of your age and the police may have then acted illegally. If so, you need to know what defense options you have moving forward.

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