The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution serves as one of the strongest pillars of criminal defense law in Colorado and beyond. In it’s simplest terms, the Fourth Amendment provides us with the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of our person and property. These protections therefore protect us from unreasonable and intrusive governmental conduct. Some of the ways the Fourth Amendment applies to criminal cases in the real world are as follows.
Requirements for warrants. In many situations, one cannot be arrested without a warrant, signed by a judge believing probable cause exists for the individual’s arrest. Though this warrant requirement has been somewhat relaxed over the years, there always remains a requirement of probable cause before an individual may be seized by law enforcement. This protection comes from the Fourth Amendment.
Requirements of reasonable suspicion and probable cause. There exist three types of citizen-governmental contacts. First, there is a “consensual encounter.” As it sounds, this type of contact is entered into freely by both the citizen and the law enforcement officer. However, the remaining two types of encounters require a legal justification. An investigatory detention — in which an officer briefly detains an individual to determine whether there may be criminal activity afoot — requires reasonable suspicion. A traffic stop is an example of an investigatory detention; a brief detention for the purpose of conducting police business. A seizure, or arrest, requires probable cause. If an officer detains or seizes an individual without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, respectively, the officer has violated that individuals Fourth Amendment Rights.
Additional Fourth Amendment Protections. There exist several different additional applications of the Fourth Amendment to criminal law. If you are charged with a crime in Colorado, contact Denver criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez to discuss your case, and whether your Fourth Amendment rights were infringed upon. We know the law and will fight to ensure that your rights are protected.
4th Amendment Case Law and How It Could Apply to Your Denver Criminal Case.
- The 4th Amendment and Your Home: The 4th Amendment provides the strongest protection for individuals when they are in their homes. The Supreme Court has repeatedly enforced protections for an individual against even the government on one’s own property. Since the days of our Founding Fathers, a man’s home has been his castle, a place where he could deny entry to anyone. That doctrine stands valid to this day. With few exceptions, unless the police have a warrant, they do not have the right to come into your home. If the police knock on your door, you do not have to answer. If the police ask to come into your home, you can deny them unless they have a warrant. If the police do enter your home with your permission, anything they see or find can be used against you in a court of law. If the police have searched your home or would like to, consult with an experienced Denver attorney today.
- The 4th Amendment and Your Vehicle: The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches of your vehicle; however, the United States Supreme Court has outlined two exceptions to the 4th Amendment that routinely apply to vehicles. These exceptions are powerful tools law enforcement can use to search your vehicle, even without a warrant. The first is commonly referred to as an inventory search. If you are arrested during a traffic stop, whether for DUI, an outstanding warrant, or any other reason, the police may search your car and take inventory of its contents. This exception allows officers to search your car without a warrant and use any contraband found against you in a court of law. The second exception to the warrant requirement that commonly applies to vehicles is fittingly called the automobile exception. If an officer has probable cause to believe an automobile contains evidence of a crime, the officer may search your vehicle, even without a warrant. However, recent case law has started to limit officers’ abilities to utilize either exception: People v. Brown, 2018 CO 27 and People v. Allen, 2019 CO 88. At the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez, we pride ourselves on maintaining expert level knowledge of the ever-evolving field of criminal defense. Having a member of our team on your side is a smart choice toward mounting a strong criminal defense.
- K9 Drug Units: K9 drug units, or simply drug dogs, are beginning to be utilized by law enforcement with greater frequency. The law allows an officer and the K9 unit to sniff the odor emanating from your vehicle, so long as the time it takes to conduct the sniff is not unreasonable. While there is no hard and fast amount of time that is acceptable, a delay of around 30 minutes has been deemed acceptable by courts. Interestingly, law enforcement in Colorado had to adapt to the passage of Amendment 64, because a dog does not have the ability to distinguish between marijuana and other illegal drugs. Law enforcement was left in a position where the K9 units that had been trained could not be used in the same way as they had been prior to Amendment 64. As a response, many K9 units have not been trained to detect marijuana at all, so that officers may still develop probable cause for illegal drugs when the K9 alerts to a substance. However, not every K9 unit has been replaced. A smart and experienced Denver criminal defense attorney from our office will know these updates regarding K9 training and will fight for you.
- DUI Checkpoints: Have you ever been traveling through Denver or the Denver-Metro area and encountered a DUI checkpoint? Many times, our Denver DUI attorneys have been asked whether DUI checkpoints are a violation of their constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment. In 1990, the Colorado Supreme Court examined DUI Checkpoints in People v. Rister, 803 P.2d 483 (Colo. 1990). The Court determined that there is a balance at issue with DUI checkpoints: the state’s legitimate interest in stopping drunk drivers against the intrusion into a person’s privacy that a DUI checkpoint entails. In determining that DUI checkpoints are constitutional, the Court determined that such a minor intrusion is justified in light of the seriousness of DUIs. However, that does not mean the police can set up checkpoints however they want and no violation of the 4th Amendment occurs. Officers must follow specific protocol in setting up the check point, or else the checkpoint could run afoul of the 4th Amendment. An experienced Denver DUI attorney can help make sure that proper procedures were followed to protect your rights.
- The Fourth Amendment and Someone Else’s Property: The 4th Amendment protects your rights and prohibits law enforcement from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, but the 4th Amendment is not unlimited. For example, the law allows law enforcement to enter a home if there is exigency, meaning that some situation exists in which law enforcement has reason to believe evidence is being lost. A common example would be law enforcement entering a home to prevent drugs from being flushed down the toilet. However, in order for the protections of the 4th Amendment to apply you must have an interest in protecting your privacy. This is a legal term that is a little confusing at first, but consider, if someone is out in public selling drugs, do they expect to be free from anyone and everyone observing what they do? No. Because they do not a legitimate privacy interest, the 4th Amendment would not apply. The same applies in someone else’s home or vehicle. Because neither of those are your property, the same 4th Amendment protections do not apply. If you are renting a hotel room or long-term housing, the protections of the 4th Amendment do apply. Navigating these types of legal dilemmas are what we specialize in. Contact our experienced attorneys for help today.
- The Exclusionary Rule: This principle is the most useful tool in a defense attorney’s arsenal, as it concerns the 4th Amendment. This doctrine is what holds the police and the government accountable for any missteps as far as the 4th Amendment is concerned. Under the exclusionary rule, if a Court finds that the police violated your 4th Amendment rights, any evidence that they found cannot be used against you. This means, even if the police find contraband in your house or vehicle, they cannot use it to prosecute you. With a strong Denver criminal defense attorney on your side, you know your rights are being protected.