A Feature on Search and Seizure

In the United States, the police are allowed to perform search and seizure practices. However, the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment does not permit search and seizure practices that are unreasonable. The original wording of the document is not specific and it has been a hot topic of contention ever since. Over the decades following its institution, many events have clarified the fine line between reasonable and unreasonable search and seizure.

The logic behind the human right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure practice is nothing more than the right to privacy. The right to privacy guarantees that personal and confidential information that has been disclosed in a private place will not be divulged to third parties, especially if that information has the tendency of causing either emotional distress or embarrassment. The Fourth Amendment is what has given rise to the general rule that a valid warrant needs to be issued by a judge for a search to be valid.

Despite the constitutional right to safety and protection from unreasonable search and seizure procedures, there have been some famous breaches of the Fourth Amendment. One of the most famous breaches was the case of Katz v. United States. This case was a landmark in the Federal Judiciary because it extended the protection of the Fourth Amendment to all circumstances where a person possesses a reasonable expectation of privacy. Charles Katz was convicted of transmitting gambling wagers that were illegal. In order to get evidence of the wagers, the FBI recorded his phone conversations which he was conducting inside of a public pay phone booth. The Supreme Court ruled that a person who pays a toll and shuts the phone booth door behind his or her back does have an expectation for their conversation to stay private.

Officials can be certain that their search and seizure conduct is lawful by making sure that there is no interference from privacy issues. One way that officials can achieve this is by only searching a place where there is no legitimate expectation of privacy. Using the two-part test devised by the Supreme Court can be an effective way for officials to guard themselves against running afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Before officials conduct a search, they should ask themselves if the person in question really could expect a degree of privacy. They should also determine if a person’s expectation is one that society will agree with.

There are various ways that victims of unreasonable search and seizure can respond. For instance, if a police officer collects evidence against a person after a traffic stop by searching the individual’s vehicle, but does not have probable cause, then the offended person can petition a court not to include the evidence at his or her trial. Victims of unreasonable search and seizure can also contact an attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can outline a victim's rights under the law and also advise them on the best way to proceed in their response, which may include filing charges. People who believe they have been the victim of an unlawful search and seizure also have the option of launching a complaint with the offending police department.

All of the above considered, there are still general limitations and exceptions to the right of privacy and to protection from being the target of unreasonable search and seizure. The most well-known exception to the Fourth Amendment is the principle of no privacy issues that apply to a search and seizure. Since the Fourth Amendment protection is applicable only in cases where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, an exception to this rule occurs if the search and seizure takes place in a circumstance where a person does not have such an expectation, such as out in the open in a public park. This is known as the Plain View Exception. Another good example to illustrate this exception is if, during a hypothetical traffic stop, the police see a gun through the windows of the car. In this case, it would not even be considered a search because there is no expectation of privacy in a car with windows that everyone can see through.