The Constitution was drafted with several purposes, one of which was ensuring that our newly founded government did not repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. The Fourth Amendment specifically targets acts like unreasonable invasions conducted under the guise of the crown’s authority. In the present day, it aims to guarantee our security and privacy in our homes, persons, effects, and documents. These rights are some of the essential foundations of freedom for the American citizen. However, the sanctity of an individual’s privacy is not as simple as the phrase taken at face value would imply.
Deconstructed, the first step to determining if a search and seizure has been conducted is concluding that the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This two-prong legal test, derived from the famous case Katz v. United States, first examines a person’s subjective belief as to whether they believed they were acting in a way that cannot be expected to be exposed to the public when making a private call from a public phone booth. In other words, they truly believed they were acting privately. This prong of the test is difficult, particularly when dealing with verbal communications between individuals and when they take place in public. After all, it would be impossible to guarantee that a third party would never divulge your secrets. We all operate under the assumption that NDAs and doctor/client privilege are sacred, but in the grand scheme of things, those communications can still be leaked at the expense of a lawsuit or loss of license. Additionally, it would further be difficult to rationalize that a person believed a conversation held in a public location would not overhead incidentally. This case ended with the conclusion that actions taken by the individual in closing a phone booth door indicated they did believe their conversations were entitled to at least some expectation of privacy.
Assuming that the first subjective prong of this test is met, a second prong of the objective reasonableness of the subjective belief is assessed. Simply put, was the person reasonable, in the eyes of the public (average person), when they assumed their information to be privileged to privacy? An example of being unreasonable would be if a person were to scream in the middle of a parking lot and expect nobody to overhear them. A less obvious and debatable scenario would be if a person was sitting in their vehicle with the windows rolled up and having a conversation. Unless the window was cracked or it was extremely obvious that others around them could hear what was being said, it might be more likely that a person believed their conversation to remain within the confines of the vehicle.
If both tests are met, then it can be concluded that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Without proper authority, such as a warrant or exigent circumstances, infringing on that privacy would be to conduct an unconstitutional search or seizure. If this takes place and evidence is found, any evidence produced because of the unconstitutional search would be inadmissible or capable of being suppressed.
Because everything in life is complicated, the law is no different. Unfortunately, the rules and exceptions when applied to warrants and when a police officer needs one are fact-specific. Technicalities are a lawyer’s best friend and, here at King Law, we have plenty of well-trained attorneys that can prove useful to you, should you find yourself in need of representation. Please do not allow your rights to be violated without consulting someone who will fight for you and your rights. Contact King Law for a consultation at 888-748-5464 (KING).