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Will the Fourth Amendment affect my criminal defense?

Louisianans know that as Americans they have certain rights and freedoms created by the United States Constitution. One of these rights is the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans have the right to be secure in their homes and in their persons, and warrants for searches and seizures must not be issued without probable cause.

While it may be easy to understand a person's Fourth Amendment rights in a general sense, many Louisianans may not understand how these protected rights apply to the specifics of criminal defense. These rights typically come into play surrounding the circumstances of an investigation and possible arrest of an alleged criminal by police.

The Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment has created what is known as the "exclusionary rule." Under the exclusionary rule, courts can exclude incriminating evidence from being introduced at trial if it is determined that the evidence was obtained in a manner that violates a constitutional provision. For example, if the police improperly search a person's home and obtain evidence during that search, the evidence generally may not be introduced at trial if it is determined that the search was illegal.

Similarly, under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, additional evidence derived from an illegal search may be excluded at trial. If a defendant is arrested for drug distribution and the court determines that the arrest was unconstitutional, evidence acquired subsequent to the arrest, such as a possible confession, may be determined to be inadmissible because it followed an illegal arrest.

What evidence may be admissible or inadmissible can be confusing, but it is essential that the constitutional rights of all criminal defendants are protected. Effective legal counsel can ensure that a person's Fourth Amendment rights, and other applicable constitutional rights, are safeguarded.

Source: FindLaw, "The Fourth Amendment and the 'Exclusionary Rule'," accessed Oct. 16, 2015

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