Expectations of Privacy Under the Fourth Amendment
All too often, the outcome of a criminal case relies on evidence that may have been obtained illegally. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution offers citizens protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Whether a search by a law enforcement officer was reasonable is not always clear, as any seasoned defense attorney knows. Nor is the definition of the expectation of privacy.
A search may be considered unreasonable if it was conducted in a place where the defendant had an expectation of privacy. The classic example is that police surveillance cameras cannot be installed in a public restroom even if they have probable cause to suspect that an illegal activity is being perpetrated since most people reasonably assume that they have privacy there. In contrast, most people would not consider the front seat of a car to be a private place since it is surrounded by windows and is used to navigate public spaces.
As surveillance technology becomes more advanced, new questions are raised about the boundaries of what is private or not. Is it legal for Internet service providers to turn over user information to the authorities? Do you have the same expectations of privacy in sending an e-mail as you do when mailing a first-class letter through the postal system?
No constitutional right comes with a complete list of all circumstances where it is applicable. Instead, we have a justice system that guarantees defendants the right to a fair trial. Criminal defense attorneys work diligently to protect the legal rights of their clients, including strategies to bar evidence obtained in unreasonable or illegal searches.