Search and Seizure: Fourth Amendment Rights

Search and seizure is the process of a police officer or any other authority figure who suspect that a crime has been committed, do a search of a person’s property and confiscate any relevant evidence pertaining to the crime that might have been committed. Search and seizure is a legal procedure that is carried out in most common law and civil law legal systems. The United States Constitution guarantees, in the Fourth Amendment, that citizens of the country are free from unreasonable search and seizures. This right is based on the premise that everyone is entitled to a reasonable amount of a right to privacy. Before a search and seizure can be carried out, a search warrant must first be obtained by the law enforcement officers. A search warrant is a court ordered document that is issued by a judge. The document authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search of a person or a location for evidence in a criminal offense and seize the items that pertain to the case.

Some requirements that must be met before a search or arrest warrant can be issued include:

  • The warrants must be judicially sanctioned.
  • The request for the warrants must be supported by probable cause.
  • The case must be limited in scope.
  • The person requesting the warrant(s) (police officer) must swear by the warrant.
  • The officer or person requesting the warrant(s) is accountable to the issuing court.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, housed in the Bill of Rights, gives citizens of the country the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


If you are in need of legal assistance, consult with a Criminal Defense Attorney in your area to receive a free case review.


The Fourth Amendment only guarantees a right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizures committed by government agencies such as police departments, the FBI, the CIA, the DEA and other agencies. The Fourth Amendment does not guarantee the right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizures from private citizens of the United States or corporations within the United States.

With almost all laws in the United States, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement for government officials before they can arrest or search a person or their property:

  • Plain View Doctrine: The Plain View Doctrine says that if an officer is lawfully present at a place, that officer may begin a search if they have probable cause that they are looking for contraband. The objects that they search and seize must be in plain view of the officer.
  • Open Fields Doctrine: The Open Fields Doctrine says that open fields, waters, woods, and other such areas may be searched and have objects seized without the presence of a warrant
  • Exigent Circumstances: Exigent Circumstances are when the officer is allowed to perform a search and seizure without a warrant because they feel that it is necessary to the safety of themselves, other officers, the public, and their property.
  • Motor Vehicle Exception: The Motor Vehicle Exception is when an officer can search a vehicle if they have probable cause without a warrant but cannot search the people inside the car without probable cause or unless those people gave their consent. 
If you are in need of legal assistance, consult with a Criminal Defense Attorney in your area to receive a free case review.

Other exceptions include searches incident to a lawful arrest, border search exceptions, searches in public schools, searches of government offices and a search may be conducted at anytime, anywhere if the person of interest gives consent to the search.