Among the most debated terms in American legal history is the definition of “probable cause.” Police officers invoke “probable cause” when they search a person, car or home without a warrant. Lawmakers introduced this legal term in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which concerns citizen privacy and protection against unlawful searches.

The broad interpretations of “probable cause” have spawned countless Constitutional arguments over the years. How do judges determine when an illegal search has occurred?

The Fourth Amendment

Legal arguments concerning the legality of a search or seizure of property center around the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment guarantees people the right to privacy and security against unreasonable search or seizure unless law enforcement has probable cause. Over the years, courts have attempted to broaden the definition of “probable cause” while maintaining its mutability.

Currently, probable cause hinges on the “reasonableness” of the search. A court that finds a search reasonable also finds the search constitutional. Defendants face the challenge of proving their search was “unreasonable” to the court, and thus in violation of their constitutional rights.

Consequences of an illegal search

A defense lawyer can make their case by successfully proving law enforcement performed a search illegally. Unlawful search or seizures face two legal consequences:

  1. Exclude evidence: Any evidence discovered during an illegal search and seizure becomes inadmissible in court. Even if this evidence proves the defendant committed the crime, the police cannot use it in court. Further evidence discovered through an illegal search also becomes inadmissible.
  2. File a claim against law enforcement: If a court finds the search was illegal, the defendant can file suit against the police. The Supreme Court protects law enforcement through “qualified immunity,” which gives police the benefit of the doubt when making enforcement errors, so these lawsuits are difficult to win.

Questions about a recent police search? A lawyer can help

People have more success proving unlawful searches with help from an attorney familiar with South Carolina criminal law. A lawyer will fight for their client’s Fourth Amendment rights and help ensure a fair and just trial.