Law enforcement officers work tirelessly to ensure that individuals are following the law. They too, however, need to follow the laws governing police officers.

A main function of a law enforcement officer is to obtain information and gather evidence. A law enforcement officer is required to follow the United States Constitution when they are performing their duties as peace officers. This article will discuss police laws you should know.

What Constitutional Amendments Apply to Police Officers?

There are three main Constitutional Amendments which apply to the duties of a law enforcement officer. Constitutional law for police officers are found in the following Amendments:

A law enforcement officer cannot utilize evidence in an individual’s criminal case if they violate one or more of these constitutional rights. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to argue that a law enforcement officer violated their constitutional rights and may be able to prevent evidence from being used in court.

What are 4th Amendment Protections – Unlawful Searches and Seizures?

Every individual has a constitutional right to be free from an unlawful search or seizure pursuant to the 4th Amendment. However, many individuals do not fully understand how to exercise this right or that they are permitted to refuse certain requests from law enforcement officers.

The 4th Amendment has also become one of the main bodies of law that is referred to when addressing privacy issues, such as surveillance and wiretaps. Although the 4th Amendment does not specifically mention privacy, the concept is implied as an underlying principle.

A law enforcement officer is not required to inform an individual of their constitutional right to refuse a search. It is up to the individual to be aware of and to exercise their rights.

As noted, all individuals have the 4th Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, including the following:

  • If an individual is on parole in most states, such as California;
  • When an individual is going through a public security screening such as at the airport, a courthouse, or city hall;
  • Where public safety overrides the individual’s constitutional rights; and
  • During a traffic stop, when law enforcement officers have the right to ask for the individual’s license and registration. It is important to note, however that the law enforcement officer does not have the right to search certain areas of the vehicle without the individual’s consent, probable cause, or a warrant, including:
    • In the trunk;
    • Under the seats; and
    • In the glove box.

This constitutional protection is very important in all criminal cases. Many cases involve an individual’s constitutional rights being violated.

A law enforcement officer is permitted to search an individual’s vehicle, come inside their home, or look in their bag when the individual consents to the search. Many individuals simply say yes without realizing they have just given up a very important right.

Another important issue related to the 4th Amendment that many individuals are not aware of is that law enforcement is permitted to search an individual’s garbage once it is placed in a location which is accessible to the public, such as at the curb on pickup day. There are, however, a few minority courts which have ruled that it does violate an individual’s rights to search their garbage, even when in a public location.

Most courts have ruled that a search and seizure of garbage was constitutional when it was stored in locations such as:

  • Set on the sidewalk or by the curb in front the individual’s home;
  • Found in an individual’s yard or property surrounding their residence, such as the curtilage;
  • Kept in the individual’s garage;
  • Within motel or hotel rooms;
  • Inside an office;
  • In garbage receptacles on the street, at a rest stop, or in a restaurant; and
  • In a communal trash receptacle shared by tenants in an apartment complex.

A defense attorney can argue that an individual’s 4th Amendment rights were violated if their property was searched without:

This argument is typically presented in a hearing on what is known as a motion in limine. The evidence or items which were unlawfully seized can be prohibited from being presented as evidence against an individual in court.

What are 5th Amendment Protections – Right to an Attorney and Avoiding Self-Incrimination?

Many individuals are familiar with the 5th Amendment due to popular police and legal dramas on television. The 5th Amendment includes Miranda rights, which include the following:

  • “You have the right to remain silent;
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law;
  • You have the right to speak to an attorney; and
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you;
  • Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

Many times, individuals do not fully understand these rights and they often waive them. In order to ensure that an individual’s rights are fully protected during any interaction with law enforcement, they should ask for an attorney immediately.

If an individual is subject to a custodial interrogation, they are required to affirmatively request an attorney by stating, “I want a lawyer.” It is very important to be aware that merely inquiring whether an individual should speak to an attorney or stating that they think they need an attorney or another type of less affirmative response will not be considered an invocation of their rights.

What are 6th Amendment Protections – Stops Police Interrogation?

The 6th Amendment provides an individual with protections include:

The 6th Amendment also prevents law enforcement from questioning an individual without an attorney present once charges have been filed against them. It is important for an individual not to answer questions from law enforcement without their attorney present if they are being prosecuted for an offense. Any statements which are made to law enforcement outside the presence of an individual’s attorney, once requested, should be suppressed.

What Happens When Police Violate My 4th, 5th or 6th Amendment Rights?

If law enforcement violates an individual’s 4th, 5th, or 6th Amendment rights, a court may suppress the evidence. When evidence is suppressed, it means that the court does not use that evidence against the defendant. The bases for these exclusions are doctrines known as the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree and the Exclusionary Rule.

Should I Get a Criminal Defense Attorney?

Yes, it is essential for an individual to have the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer during their interactions with law enforcement. Your attorney can protect your rights as well as advocate and argue on your behalf.

Having an attorney is very important, especially in a case where you believe your constitutional rights have been violated. It is important to keep in mind that, in most cases, law enforcement is only speaking to you to elicit the information they want, and they are permitted to tell lies about certain things in order to attempt to make you incriminate yourself.