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A Guide to the Fourth Amendment - Your Right Against Unlawful Search & Seizure

Posted Friday, October 6, 2017 by Lizanne Padula.

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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution creates the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. It reads: “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.”

Your Right Against Unlawful Search & Seizure

In general, you have the right to refuse a search of your property or vehicle in the absence of a valid search warrant. However, if law enforcement officers have a search warrant, you must submit to the search. There are other notable exceptions to your Fourth Amendment rights.

Search Incident to a Lawful Arrest

When a person is lawfully arrested, the police have the right to search his or her person and the area immediately surrounding them. The rationale is that the search is permissible without a warrant as a protective measure for the arresting officers.

Plain View Exception

No warrant is required for police to seize evidence that is in plain view so long as the police are legitimately in the location where the evidence is out in plain view.

Stop and Frisk

Police may stop and frisk (pad down) a suspect when they have “reasonable suspicion” of a criminal act. Also, if there is reason to believe the suspect may be armed, police can execute a stop and frisk.

Automobile Exception

A search warrant is not required to search a vehicle if the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime, contraband, or the “fruits” of a crime. This exception is limited to a search of areas within the vehicle that might contain evidence of the type suspected to be present. The rationale is that vehicles are highly mobile and may be out of reach if the police had to wait for a search warrant to issue.


Similar to the Automobile Exception, evidence that can be easily moved or destroyed before a warrant can be issued may be seized without a warrant.

In the absence of one of the above exceptions, a valid search warrant, or your consent, the police do not have the right to search you or your property.

Defending Against Criminal Charges

If incriminating evidence against you was obtained in violation of your rights, you may be able to suppress that evidence from being used against you at trial. The Exclusionary Rule generally prevents the State from using evidence gathered in violation of the United States Constitution. Criminal defense attorneys work diligently to Motion the Court to get evidence suppressed at or before trial so that the jury never sees it. When we get a key piece of evidence in the Prosecution’s case suppressed, this gives us leverage to have the charges reduced, dismissed, or to negotiate a favorable plea agreement.

The laws encompassing the rights afforded by the Fourth Amendment are complex and nuanced. Hire a criminal defense attorney to advocate for your rights and mount a strong defense against the Prosecution’s case against you.

The skilled attorneys at Padula & Associates, LLC can defend your rights and help you fight for a just resolution. We proudly serve those in King County, Snohomish County, Pierce County, Lewis County, and Washington State.

Call us 24/7 at 425-883-3366, email us at, or fill out our online free consultation form today.