The United States Constitution grants you certain rights when it comes to your interactions with the police, and it gives you certain recourses if they violate those rights. One of the most important rights you have is the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. It’s important to know when that right applies, and how your expectation of privacy ties into those rights.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution grants you protection against the police searching your person or personal items for no reason. Before they conduct a search, the police must have reasonable suspicion that the search will reveal evidence of a crime – and they must be able to back up that suspicion with facts and observations, not just with a hunch.
The important part about this Constitutional protection against illegal searches and seizures is that it only applies when you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This expectation can be somewhat subjective, but the Supreme Court has offered guidance on some places where people typically expect to have more privacy than other places.
Expectation of privacy
The Court has recognized that your home is the most private environment that you have. Thus, the police need a court to duly issue a valid search warrant, based on probable cause, before they can search your home without your permission. You also might have a more limited right to privacy in your workplace, depending on the type of industry you work in.
When it comes to your car, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. On one hand, cars have transparent windows and travel on public roads. Thus, you can’t expect your activities and the contents of your car to remain private, since everyone can see it without even opening your door. However, you do have a limited expectation of privacy in objects in your glovebox, trunk and any closed containers in your car.
This means that the police cannot search your car without your permission, unless they have probable cause. However, if there is evidence of a crime clearly visible on your car seat or dashboard, that will be enough to give the police the probable cause necessary to search the rest of your car and seize any evidence they find.
The Constitution’s protection of your right to privacy is essential to your ability to protect yourself against police overreach. That’s why it’s essential to know when and where these rights apply.