While the first 10 amendments provide citizens with a number of legal protections, the Fourth Amendment might be one of the most controversial of the Bill of Rights. In several cases that have worked their way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the government limits the protection of citizens against unlawful search and seizure in some situations.
The exact wording of the Fourth Amendment guarantees the protection of people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Court cases usually focus on the specific meaning of the word “unreasonable,” which often depends on the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure. In addition, the Supreme Court addresses the concept of privacy and whether the individual and the public in general agreed their property would remain private. The Fourth Amendment specifies that reasonable searches and seizures are legal. In some cases, a jury decides the definition of “reasonable.”
In the majority of cases, Americans can expect privacy in their place of residence. Law enforcement personnel always need a warrant to search and seize anything in a home unless extreme circumstances dictate otherwise. The courts agree that a man’s home is his castle. Garbage, however, is not considered private. If an item is in a bag and in a container to be thrown away, law enforcement personnel can search it. They can also search envelopes in many situations.
The courts also usually view purses, backpacks, briefcases and bags as private property. In one case, they even upheld the privacy of a slightly transparent bag held by a passenger on public transportation.
Vehicles might not be afforded the classification of privacy, especially according to a 2005 Supreme Court decision based on events in Illinois. In the case of Illinois v. Caballes, No. 03-923, law enforcement personnel stopped a man for speeding. When back-up came with a drug-detection dog, the dog sniffed out marijuana. The court convicted the defendant on the basis of the dog’s scent of the drug. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned the ruling since the defendant was not originally suspected of drug activity. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the right of the police to involve a drug dog in any traffic stop. If the dog detects drugs, law enforcement personnel can search the vehicle. The moral of the story is to leave it at home and out of your vehicle unless you don’t care if law enforcement personnel finds it.
Security personnel are exempt from unlawful search and seizure and have the right to search your property since they do not work for the government. For example, if you go to a concert, the venue workers can look inside your belongings. If they find something illegal, they can report you to police.