The Bill of Rights is supposed to establish the rights of individuals against the power of the federal government, as well as the government of Texas and the rest of the states. For example, the Fourth Amendment states that the police can search someone’s body or property only if the search is “reasonable.” The general rule is that before they can conduct a search, officers must go to a judge and show that they have probable cause to believe they will find evidence of a crime.
However, there are several limits to the law prohibiting warrantless police searches. One of them gives police the power to search your property in places where you do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Where do we have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’?
There is a sliding scale. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Americans generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their bodies, clothing and personal belongings. Thus, police are not supposed to randomly stop people on the street and search their pockets, backpacks and purses.
People also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and the area immediately around the home, known as the “curtilage.” However, this right does not extend to “open fields” beyond the curtilage.
Next, you do have a reasonable expectation of privacy inside your vehicle, but the right of privacy is not as strong as for your body or your home.
Finally, there is no expectation of privacy for objects visible to the public, even if those objects are in your vehicle or home. This “plain view” exception gives police the ability to excuse seizing evidence in a warrantless search in certain situations. For example, if a police officer looks through the window of a house and observes marijuana plants growing in the living room, the officer could argue that the plants were in plain view and that a search warrant was not necessary to enter the home and seize the plants as evidence against the homeowner.
How to take on police violations of your rights
If the police who searched your home or vehicle violated your Fourth Amendment rights, you can do something about it. Your defense attorney could argue that the violation should result in the evidence being thrown out of court, which could cause the charges against you to be dropped.