The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 6 of the Rhode Island Constitution, offers people certain privacy guarantees. While some of the words are slightly different, the intent of both amendments is the same. Rhode Island's version states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers and possessions, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue, but on complaint in writing, upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and describing as nearly as may be, the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
The Intention of the Framers
When the framers of the Constitution wrote these words, their intention was to protect people's privacy from unreasonable governmental intrusion. In other words, the government can't just walk into someone's home and start rifling through their possessions or their papers without probable cause to do so. Today, that includes police looking into a person's cell phone or computer browsing history.
Exceptions to the Right to Privacy
There are certain exceptions to the right to privacy under the law. In the Constitution, Article I Section 6 specifically provides that when there is a written complaint detailing probable cause, and supported by “oath or affirmation,” the government is free to intrude. This includes the use of a valid search warrant to get access to and search a certain area or object.
Exceptions to the requirement of probable cause include:
- Where the government has the consent of the owner of the property,
- There is probable cause and there are exigent circumstances, such as when people are in imminent danger,
- Where there is the potential for imminent destruction of the evidence,
- When the subject of the seizure is in plain view,
- If a property has been abandoned, or
- There is no expectation of privacy in an item, based on the circumstances.
Consequences of Government Overreach
In every criminal case, a criminal defense attorney has the right to challenge the search or seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Article I Section 6. Where the government has violated a person's constitutional rights to privacy, and no exception exists, the consequence is the discovered evidence is “suppressed.” In other words, the government cannot use that item against a person in a criminal case. This can lead to charges being reduced or even dropped altogether.
For example, if the police stop someone without a reason and find drugs in their possession, the suspect's defense attorney could challenge the use of the drugs as evidence of the crime. If the evidence is suppressed, the prosecutor may have nothing to charge the suspect with and would likely drop the case.
If You are Charged with a Crime
If you have been charged with a crime in Rhode Island, you should have an experienced criminal defense attorney carefully review the facts and circumstances of your individual case. One size does not fit all, and words and details matter in cases wherein your Constitutional Rights may be affected.
At The Law Offices of Kensley R. Barrett, Esq., we leave no constitutional stone unturned. We carefully review the facts of each case. Where the government is not in compliance with the law, we challenge the admissibility of the evidence in court. Contact the office today for a free consultation – (401) 380-6724.