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Your right to privacy against police searches depends on where you are

by | Apr 26, 2021 | Criminal Law |

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” This means that, in general, Missoula police and county deputies need to get a search warrant from a judge before they can legally search a person’s property for evidence they have committed a crime.

The right to privacy test

But this is not an absolute right. There are several exceptions, often related to whether you, as the target of a warrantless police search, had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is no hard and fast rule about where and when you have such an expectation. Under a test created by the U.S. Supreme Court, the questions that must be answered are:

  • Did the defendant actually expect some degree of privacy?
  • If so, was their expectation objectively reasonable?

The answers to these questions mostly depend on where the search took place and what the police searched. Generally, courts consider a person’s expectation of privacy to be strongest at their home. The law takes the principle that a person’s home is their castle seriously. With limited exceptions, police need a valid search warrant before they can search your home for drugs or other evidence without your permission.

The protection against warrantless searches outside your home

When you are inside your vehicle outside of your driveway or garage, you have some expectation of privacy, but less than you have at home. The police are more likely to have the power to search your car or truck without a warrant. And when you are out in public, your right to privacy may be at its lowest, but there is still some reasonable expectation to privacy. For example, the police likely will not be able to conduct a warrantless search of a bag, purse or briefcase you are carrying, even if the bag is partly see-through.

If you were arrested on drug charges, talk about what happened with a defense attorney. You may discover that the search that led to your arrest violated your rights and that your lawyer may be able to get the evidence thrown out of court.