You Are Protected By the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution seeks to uphold every citizen's right to privacy and from unreasonable government intrusion into their personal property. This includes a person's physical body, home, businesses, or property.
Under the Fourth Amendment, a person is protected when:
- Law enforcement physically apprehends someone by way of a stop or arrest; or
- Police conduct searches of a place where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
These rules prevent evidence obtained from illegal searches from being admissible in court and ensures that those arrested are protected from the abuse of the criminal system.
In order for police to have a reasonable right to stop a person or search their property, they must obtain a search warrant or an arrest warrant from a judge or have probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime. Many police officers will attempt to bypass the need for a warrant by using scare tactics aimed at coercing someone from verbally consenting to a search.
When is a search without a warrant legal?
One way law enforcement will try and gain access without a warrant is by using a technique called the knock-and-talk. A police officer or team of officers will approach a private residence, knock on their door, and ask the owner of the house for their consent in searching the premises. This is oftentimes used when police suspect criminal activity but do not have enough evidence to bring before a judge.
Since there is a level of intimidation that occurs when police show up at someone's home, the legality of the knock-and-talk has been called into question. A knock-and-talk is only legal if the search was consensual. If coercive or aggressive tactics were used to gain admission to a home, the knock and talk is considered illegal and all evidence is inadmissible in court.
If someone with the proper authority provides verbal or written consent to a search, law enforcement is able to perform a search and seizure without a warrant. Further, law enforcement does not need to inform a homeowner that they have the right to refuse consent.
Someone is under no legal obligation to consent to this search and can revoke the right of the officers to be in their home at any point.