Guidelines: Fourth Amendment Privacy Rights

When private parties are involved, the goods found during searches can often be used against an accused party – even if the intrusions were unreasonable. As your South King County criminal defense lawyer will tell you, when private parties and government agents are both involved in the same search, constitutional restraints must be observed. Current government informants, who have done similar work in the past, may see their present work classified as government action, rendering it subject to constitutional limitations.

How Privacy Interests Can Be Abandoned or Protected

Fourth Amendment privacy interests can be forfeited in items that are left in places that compromise a person’s ownership. For example, if you leave your backpack in a public hallway, place trash outside in an alley or toss drugs into the bushes when the police are chasing you, courts will probably rule that you relinquished your Fourth Amendment rights in those items.

However, there are many exceptions to that interpretation. For instance, if you entrust your possessions to someone else or just sit them down on a table temporarily, you have probably not legally abandoned them. Likewise, if you ask someone to temporarily keep a box for you labeled “confidential,” you have not abandoned your Fourth Amendment rights in that box. Finally, if you’re out doing some shopping and go to a new store, you may want to “check” a bag in with customer service until you’re ready to leave. If you pick that “checked” bag up within a relatively short amount of time, you have not given up your privacy rights to that bag.

Remember, the government must always first prove that you abandoned something before it can claim that you forfeited your Fourth Amendment privacy rights in it.

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