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Search and Seizure

Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy

Individuals receive no Fourth Amendment protection unless they can demonstrate that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place that was searched or the property that was seized. The U.S. Supreme Court explained that what "a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection…. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576 (1976). In general the Court has said that individuals enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own bodies, PERSONAL PROPERTY, homes, and business offices. Individuals also enjoy a qualified expectation of privacy in their automobiles.

Individuals ordinarily possess no reasonable expectation of privacy in things like bank records, vehicle location and vehicle paint, garbage left at roadside for collection, handwriting, the smell of luggage, land visible from a public place, and other places and things visible in plain or open view. Houseguests typically do not possess a reasonable expectation of privacy in the homes they are visiting, especially when they do not stay overnight and their sole purpose for being inside the house is to participate in criminal activity such as a drug transaction. Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 119 S. Ct. 469, 142 L. Ed. 2d 373 (1998). Similarly, a defendant showing only that he was a passenger in a searched car has not shown an expectation of privacy in the car or its contents. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 99 S. Ct. 421, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1978). Both the houseguest and the motor vehicle passenger must assert a property or possessory interest in the home or motor vehicle before a court will recognize any Fourth Amendment privacy interests such that would prevent a police officer from searching those places without first obtaining a warrant.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Roberts v. United States Jaycees to Secretary of StateSearch and Seizure - Overview, State Action, Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy, Probable Cause And Reasonable Suspicion, Arrest And Miranda