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Was the search that led to your arrest for burglary legal?

After a rash of break-ins in a residential neighborhood, you could find police at your door alerting you that authorities consider you a suspect. Suspicion could fall on you for a variety of reasons, but that does not mean that you give up any of your rights under the U.S. Constitution.

One of those rights pertains to searches. If police searched your home, they must follow search laws, rules and procedures in order to do so. Any violation of your Fourth Amendment rights could render the search and any evidence resulting from it illegal, which means that a judge may not allow prosecutors to use that evidence against you in court.

What does the Fourth Amendment do for you?

The framers of the Constitution understood that authorities should not have the right to simply burst into your home and conduct a search. Instead, they must meet certain requirements in order to conduct that search. Police will need to obtain a search warrant, which requires officers to provide a California judge with information and evidence establishing probable cause for the search. Only when the judge is satisfied that probable cause exists will he or she issue a search warrant.

Of course, as is the case with most laws, exceptions do apply. If police intend to say that the search falls under one of these exceptions, they must provide evidence to substantiate that claim.

What are the exceptions?

The exception to the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures revolves around your expectation of privacy. If authorities show that you did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy where they conducted the search, then the court may rule that they did not violate your rights. The U.S. Supreme Court established a test to determine whether an individual could reasonably expect privacy in a certain place or for a certain thing.

Ask yourself whether "society as a whole" would consider the place or thing private. For example, your front lawn generally does not qualify. Something on the passenger seat of your vehicle that is easily visible through the window would not qualify. In addition, you might ask yourself whether you consider the place or thing private. For instance, you would probably not stand out on your front step and consider it private. If you can see other people, then they can see you, so it probably isn't private.

What happens if the judge says the search was illegal?

As mentioned above, if a judge rules that the search of your home was not legal, any so-called evidence obtained during that search will more than likely end up staying out of court, but that may not be the end of it. If any alleged evidence obtained through an illegal search led police to other evidence, they may not use it against you in court under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine.

The framers of the constitution designed these rules to prevent police from violating your Fourth Amendment rights, but that does not always stop illegal searches. If police come knocking on your door wanting to search your home, your best course of action may be to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Understanding your rights from the beginning could help you achieve the best possible outcome to any charges you may face.

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