SCOTUS and the 4th Amendment: Are privacy rights under attack?

On Behalf of | May 1, 2018 | Firm News

On behalf of Chris Van Wagner of Christopher T. Van Wagner S.C. Criminal Defense posted in Criminal Defense on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) provides rulings that are law throughout the country. These rulings often address matters that are integral to the workings of the criminal justice system. One example: the protections guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

What does the Fourth Amendment protect? The Fourth Amendment ensures that we are free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The police cannot just pull over a vehicle and conduct a search without reasonable cause. They must justify their actions.

How is this protection under attack? We live in a very different society compared to the one that was present when our founders crafted the protections granted in the Constitution. Technological innovations provide many benefits, but they also make us vulnerable. Devices like smartphones hold a great deal of private, personal information. Just how much of this information police officers can review during a stop is constantly under review.

In some cases, these reviews make it to SCOTUS.

SCOTUS often uses a “reasonableness” test to review whether or not a questioned search violates these rights. The test is generally based on one question: would a person have a reasonable expectation of privacy? If the answer is yes, the search likely required a warrant.

SCOTUS has a new, conservative justice. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has ruled in favor of law enforcement in 16 of the last 20 Fourth Amendment cases he heard while on the 10th Circuit. As such, it is likely he will continue to rule in this manner. However, as a member of SCOTUS, his rulings will now have an even greater impact on the criminal justice system.

What does this mean for those facing criminal charges in Wisconsin? As noted above, rulings by SCOTUS are law throughout the country – including here in Wisconsin. This means rulings that a ruling that narrows the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment will impact cases in our state.

This serves as a lesson for those facing such charges: take the charges seriously. Local factors as well as larger issues, like the happenings in Washington, can impact your case. Contact an attorney to better ensure all potential factors are taken into consideration when crafting a defense to better ensure your legal rights are protected.