Many of us are somewhat familiar with the basics of search warrants from what we see on television. Often in a piece of Hollywood entertainment, a police officer knocks on the door of a home or business, providing a document deemed a search warrant moments before they begin searching the location.
So why is a search warrant needed? The simple answer is the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The text of this amendment guarantees your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that government agents must have a warrant in order to conduct a lawful search and seizure unless they meet an exception.
Because the Fourth Amendment protects the people from unreasonable searches and seizures, it should be understood what makes a search reasonable. In other words, what requirements must be met in order to not violate the Fourth Amendment?
A search is considered reasonable when a judge issues a search warrant based on probable cause. A search is also considered reasonable if the circumstances of the situation justify a search without a warrant. An example of this is conducting a search for weapons following an arrest.
When the Fourth Amendment is not applicable
The Fourth Amendment only applies to searches and seizures where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy. Therefore, if there isn’t an expectation of privacy, the Fourth Amendment does not apply, allowing officers to conduct a search without a warrant.
There is a two-part test to establish this. The first part asks whether the person subjectively expected the place or thing to remain private. The second part asks whether this expectation of privacy was objectively reasonable.
With regard to drug crimes, searches and seizures are frequently conducted to collect evidence to charge the accused. Thus, if an individual believes that an unlawful search and seizure occurred, this could give rise to a defense option, helping to reduce or dismiss the charges.