Television shows and movies showcase it all the time: an individual is going about their day while two plain clothes officers sit in an unmarked car following them. Perhaps the unmarked police car will even follow that person a few cars back as they drive away. While it has been thoroughly dramatized in crime dramas, there is a difference between what happens on screen and reality.
Expectation of Privacy
As a citizen of the United States, the Fourth Amendment provides you with protections when it comes to your privacy. The Fourth Amendment prohibits any unreasonable searches or seizures of personal property – but what is considered “reasonable” is up for debate among jurists. The issue relies on whether or not a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time their Fourth Amendment rights were violated. For example, if a person knowingly exposes something “secret” to the public, they no longer have an expectation of privacy. If, however, they preserve that item (even if it is accessible in the public area), it is protected by constitutional rights.
All citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their home, but they typically do not have that expectation while in public. Therefore, police do have a right to follow someone as long as they are in a public place. If a person is in a public place and no unlawful search or seizure took place, the courts will rule that the police following that individual was not a violation of their rights.
Assessing the Warrant Requirement
Search warrants, by law, are only required when law enforcement must search a person’s place or seize property. There are exceptions to the warrant requirement, especially if something that can be seized is in plain view of the officer.
A person that is walking or driving in public would be considered “plain view” to officers and everyone else for that matter. Therefore, law enforcement would not be required to obtain a warrant in order to follow them. An officer also has the right to stop you on the street and ask you questions – but they would need reasonable suspicion or a warrant to search you.
Drawing a Fine Line
There is a fine line between what is reasonable and legal and what is a blatant violation of constitutional rights. If you feel the police are following you, they may be doing so in order to collect “reasonable” suspicion so that they can legally search and seize property. If you are under suspicion of a crime, police may follow you in order to gather evidence.
Any time you are being questioned or followed by the police, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can ensure your Fourth Amendment rights are not violated, but also ensure that police do not abuse their ability to follow a person in public simply to collect evidence.
Contact the Law Office of Timothy Armstrong, P.A. today regarding your criminal case. We are available for consultation 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Get started by calling 904-356-8618 or fill out an online contact form.