The 4th Amendment states that people have the right to be free from warrantless searches in areas where they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." This refers to certain areas, or aspects of one’s personal life in which a reasonable person would expect some level of privacy.
Some examples of places where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy include:
- Places of residence
- Hotel rooms
- Certain public places such as restrooms
- Some areas of jail houses
- Phone booths
- Certain areas of a car (this may vary by jurisdiction)
Basically, the idea is that the police and other authorities need a search warrant before they can search these areas where privacy is expected.
If the place is one where a person doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then it is likely that the police don’t need a warrant to conduct a criminal search. Some examples of these types of places and situations include:
- Curbside areas (for instance, garbage left out for pickup on a curb)
- Areas visible by flyover (using the naked eye only)
- Bank account records
- Smells emanating from luggage
- The "curtilage" beyond a home area (unfenced areas)
- Various public areas
- Peeping tom or watching through someone window
If police have a search warrant, then they are usually allowed to search areas even if a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy there. However, without a search warrant, such a search might be considered illegal. Evidence that is gathered as a result of an illegal search is subject to the exclusionary rule, meaning that it will be excluded from the evidence records during trial.
Legal terms such as "reasonable expectation of privacy" can be difficult to understand. Also, these types of terms may have slightly different interpretations and applications depending on the jurisdiction you’re in. You may wish to hire a criminal lawyer if you need help with any type of criminal matters. An attorney can provide you with legal advice and can also represent you if you need to participate in a criminal trial.