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Probable cause and expectations of privacy

The protections of the Fourth Amendment against unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement officers is an important part of the Constitution and our legal system. Determining the legality of a search is an important part of many criminal cases. There are two legal terms that have a substantial impact on whether or not a warrantless search is considered legal. Wisconsin residents may benefit from a better understanding of this law.

Probable cause is a legal term often used to define if officers had the authority to conduct a search or seizure. The wording for probable cause is intentionally left quite vague. According to the law, officers must show that they had a reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred or that they would uncover evidence of a crime. For a warrant, police must write an affidavit to this effect and have it approved by a judge. Even if a warrantless search is conducted, officers must still prove probable cause during trial.

A person's legitimate expectation of privacy is another legal term that may affect searches. If police conduct a search or seizure without a warrant, they may argue that the person had no legitimate expectation of privacy given the situation. For example, if a person leaves evidence in plain view, then there is no expectation of privacy. If police can prove this, then no real search has occurred, so it cannot be argued the search was illegal.

Laws related to legal searches and seizures can be complicated and often filled with exceptions to the standard rules. It is often the role of a criminal defense attorney attorney to examine the evidence and facts of a case to determine if Fourth Amendment protections were violated.

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