When it comes to Fourth Amendment protections, exceptions may apply

When it comes to protecting the personal rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one of our most important legal protections. Under the Fourth Amendment, individuals are "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" from the government.

Protections afforded under the Fourth Amendment come up frequently when defending against misdemeanor and felony drug charges. In cases where a drug arrest stems from evidence discovered on an individual’s person or in a vehicle or home; the admissibility of that evidence in a courtroom largely depends on how such evidence was discovered.

In general, in order to search an individual's car, home or person; a police officer must either obtain an individual's consent or a valid search warrant. There are, however, circumstances in which a police officer is not required to obtain either.

The news is full of stories in which police officers discover drug-related evidence after conducting routine traffic stops. It's likely that a fair percentage of these cases involve officers who did not have search warrants and drivers who did not consent to the search of a vehicle. How then are these stops considered lawful?

Case law dictates that, regardless of whether or not a driver provides consent, a police officer may search a vehicle if he or she has "probable cause" to believe a vehicle "contains evidence of a criminal activity." Likewise, case law also allows a police officer to "conduct a pat-down of a driver and passengers" even in cases where there is no suspicion that a vehicle's occupants were involved in any criminal activity.

When it comes to Fourth Amendment rights and protections there are often many shades of gray. Minneapolis area residents who are facing drug charges would be wise to seek the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney will thoroughly review the facts of a case to determine whether an individual's arrest may be tied to legal or procedural violations.

Source: United States Courts, "WHAT DOES THE FOURTH AMENDMENT MEAN?," 2014

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