Despite what TV shows and movies might depict, citizens are not required to hand over their property to police simply because they were asked. The U.S. Constitution protects Pennsylvania citizens from any type of illegal search and seizure of their property. Unfortunately, defendants building their criminal defense are often unsure of what constitutes an illegal search.

The right to privacy is a dearly valued part of the Constitution. Most people reasonably expect that they will be able to store important items on their own person, in their home or in their motor vehicle without being forced to turn these things over to the law. However, in the absence of a warrant, most police rely on what they deem as a reasonable right to privacy, which can often be disputed.

There are two steps to establishing a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy, the first being a person’s own expectations. As set out by the Supreme Court, this expectation of privacy must not be that a person thought that a certain situation would often result in privacy, but that it always would. The second step is to determine whether a person’s expectation of privacy is objectively reasonable. This involves taking a person’s private expectations and applying them to society as a whole, and then determining if the expectation of privacy still holds up.

Search and seizure can be a contentious point of a defendant’s criminal defense. Many Pennsylvania citizens truly believe that the contents of their motor vehicles or carried bags are private, only to find that law enforcement officials disagree. Defendants can usually find best address this discrepancy by building their defense in as timely a manner as possible.

Source: FindLaw, “Search and Seizure Law“, Accessed on Sept. 25, 2017