Searches

A search is an invasion of privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in legitimate places-areas that society agrees are private. In other words, an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a place that a reasonable third-party would conclude is legitimately private. Additionally, an expectation of privacy requires that the individual believe he has a right to privacy in the searched premises.

I am living with my sister in her home. I pay her rent and have my own bedroom. Can she consent to my room being searched by the police?

No. You can reasonably expect privacy in your bedroom where you are a paying boarder and your bedroom is your residence.

I am staying with my parents for a couple of weeks. Can they allow the police to search the bedroom I am staying in?

No. Overnight guests have a legitimate expectation of privacy while staying in another's house. The fact that you are a temporary guest does not dilute your protection against unreasonable searches.

Sidebar: Guests who do not plan to stay overnight in another person's home are simply on the premises at the owner's consent. Thus, there is no expectation of privacy if you are visiting a friend and are searched because the friend allowed police officers to enter her home. However, if you have been given a key to your friend's home or apartment, then you may have an "expectation of privacy" in the premises you are visiting. The police would be required to obtain your consent or a warrant in order to search you in the above example.

While camping in a state park, rangers searched my tent for no reason. Do I have a right to privacy in this situation?

Yes, and the rangers violated that right, resulting in an unreasonable and illegal search. Although you were in a public state park out in the open, your tent is considered a "nonpublic" area in which you have a legitimate expectation of privacy.

Sidebar: If there were "exigent circumstances," such as reports of screams from the tent, the search would be reasonable.

Do I have a right to privacy in a hotel room?

Only if you intend to, or have stayed overnight. Hotel guests who check in for the sole purpose of conducting a business transaction, in a matter of hours, are not protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Am I required to submit to blood tests if I have been pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated?

The subject of blood, breath, urine and coordination tests in the context of Fourth

Amendment rights is large and complex. Furthermore, each state has different laws concerning alcohol and drug testing, making answers to even typical questions vary, depending on the state and the facts of the stop or arrest.

Most states have "implied consent" laws covering drivers that have been arrested or taken into custody. By "implied consent" it is meant that by driving in the state, you have consented to blood, breath or urine tests to determine if you have been drinking. In these states, you can be asked to undergo blood tests if a police officer has a reasonable belief that you were driving while intoxicated.

With that in mind, some general points to consider are:

  • Telling you that you can be arrested and taken to jail is usually not coercion;
  • An officer does not have a duty to tell you that you can refuse the test;
  • The testing must usually occur incident to an arrest, i.e., directly before or after;
  • Refusal to submit to testing can mean a night in jail and suspension of your license;
  • The fact that you refused can be evidence at trial;
  • You could be forced to submit to a test over your objections in some states; and
  • Video-tapes made at the scene can be used at a trial.