Criminal Law:

Rights with the Police

The first part of your rights with the police is covered by the Fifth Amendment. In the historic case of Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court declared that whenever a person is taken into police custody, before being questioned, he or she must be told of the Fifth Amendment right not to make any self-incriminating statements. Because of Miranda, anyone in police custody must be told four things before being questioned:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Therefore, it is important to note that when police officers question a suspect in custody without first giving the Miranda warning, any statement or confession made is presumed to be involuntary, and cannot be used against the suspect in any criminal case. Any evidence discovered as a result of that statement or confession will likely also be thrown out of the case.

The second part of your rights with the police is covered by the Fourth Amendment; this protects personal privacy, and all citizen's right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property, whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes and businesses. Legal safeguards have been put in place to ensure that law enforcement officers interfere with individuals' Fourth Amendment rights only under limited circumstances, and through specific methods.

In the criminal law realm, Fourth Amendment "search and seizure" protections extend to:

  • A law enforcement officer's physical apprehension or "seizure" of a person, by way of a stop or arrest
  • Police searches of places and items in which an individual has a legitimate expectation of privacy, such as his or her person, clothing, purse, luggage, vehicle, house, apartment, hotel room, and place of business.

Furthermore, the Fourth Amendment provides safeguards to individuals during searches and detentions, and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence in criminal cases. The degree of protection available in a particular case depends on the nature of the detention or arrest, the characteristics of the place searched, and the circumstances under which the search takes place.

The legal standards derived from the Fourth Amendment provide constitutional protection to individuals in the following situations, among others:

  • An individual is stopped for police questioning while walking down the street.
  • An individual is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, and the police officer searches the vehicle's trunk.
  • An individual is arrested.
  • Police officers enter an individual's house to place him or her under arrest.
  • Police officers enter an individual's apartment to search for evidence of crime.
  • Police officers enter a corporation's place of business to search for evidence of crime.
  • Police officers confiscate an individual's vehicle or personal property and place it under police control.

In most instances, a police officer may not search or seize an individual or his or her property unless the officer has:

  • A valid search warrant
  • A valid arrest warrant
  • A belief rising to the level of "probable cause" that an individual has committed a crime

When law enforcement officers violate an individual's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and a search or seizure is deemed unlawful, any evidence derived from that search or seizure will almost certainly be kept out of any criminal case against the person whose rights were violated.