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Assertive Representation In State & Federal Court

What is a “reasonable expectation of privacy?”

Police officers in Ohio will often search for drugs on someone’s person, in their homes or in their vehicles. The Fourth Amendment protects people against illegal search and seizures in many areas. However, it is important to note that the Fourth Amendment does not apply unless one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area that was searched.

The Supreme Court has determined that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their bodies, clothing and personal items. If a person owns a home, their privacy extends to the home itself and the area immediately surrounding the home. But, wooded areas, open fields and any other area beyond this immediate surrounding is not included. A reasonable expectation of privacy extends to vehicles, but it is less than the privacy interest of a homeowner’s home.

Another exception to the “reasonable expectation to privacy” is the plain view doctrine. In other words, if drug paraphernalia is out in the open, easily visible to the public, there is no Fourth Amendment protection and officer has the right to seize the item and possibly charge one with a drug crime. For example, a syringe on the backseat of a vehicle or a bag of cocaine in the garbage can on the curb could both be seized.

Finally, a person must have standing to object to a search and seizure. For instance, a passenger in a vehicle cannot object to a vehicle search if they do not own the vehicle. Similarly, a houseguest cannot object to a search of the homeowner’s property. There may be exceptions, if for example, the houseguest lives in the home.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures and can keep evidence obtained during an unlawful search out of a drug case. However, the Fourth Amendment does not apply in every situation.