Federal Search and Seizure: When The Government Can Invade Your Privacy

Barry M Wax PLLC

The right to privacy of all citizens in the U.S. is the foundation of many civil liberties. Protection against unreasonable search and seizures is codified in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. A keyword in the amendment is “unreasonable.” Over the years, the law interpreting the meaning of the word has identified situations in which police do not necessarily need a search warrant to search your person or property. This blog will give you a general idea of when those situations may arise.

Search Warrants

Except in rare circumstances, a search warrant is required for law enforcement personnel to encroach onto your private property and conduct a lawful search. A judge from the appropriate jurisdiction must sign off on a search warrant for it to be valid. This is usually done after law enforcement personnel seeking the warrant show the judge there is probable cause that searching a home or vehicle will reveal evidence of a crime.

Searches and Seizures Without a Warrant

There are a number of circumstances in which police may search your home, car, or other property without first obtaining a valid search warrant. Some of those reasons include:

  • You consent to a search. To save time, police might simply ask you if you will allow them to search whatever location they are seeking access to. You can – and should – say no.
  • Plain View. When police are lawfully in a particular place, such as a home, and observe evidence of a crime in plain view (meaning out in the open) they may seize such evidence and may be permitted to conduct a further search of the premises.
  • Exigent circumstances. This describes a situation in which police claim that waiting on a search warrant would result in the destruction of evidence or a suspect’s escape.
  • Searches performed during probation. Those on probation normally do not have the same level of privacy expectations as others.

How Do I Know If My Fourth Amendment Rights Have Been Violated?

In order to complain that your constitutional rights were violated, you must have “standing.” “Standing” means you have a lawful right which was infringed by police action. In order to establish standing a person must have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place being searched. If your home or car is being searched this is not difficult to establish, since it is your property and you certainly have an expectation of privacy. But consider other situations where you may not have such an expectation, such as a restaurant or a school locker or your workplace. Situations such as those require a more complicated analysis by an experienced attorney who can specifically determine if your rights were violated based on the unique facts of the case.

If you were the subject of an unreasonable search and seizure or a warrantless search and seizure the remedy is the exclusion of the evidence. That means that it cannot be used against you in court. In many cases, without the evidence, the case will be dismissed. In other cases, it may result in an exclusion of only some of the evidence, but will still have a significant impact on obtaining a favorable outcome of the case.


To put up a premium defense against your federal charges, you need an attorney who understands the relevant laws and can fight to limit admissibility of evidence. Most of all, you need a legal team that understands and respects your constitutional rights. Get in touch with Attorney Barry M. Wax today to get started on a one-hour, no-obligation consultation.

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