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Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens when Dealing with Law Enforcement – An Introduction to the Fourth Amendment

This new article on is intended as a primer on terms and concepts associated with the fourth amendment.  It’s intended for citizens, be they criminal defendants or just curious, law enforcement, law students, and even practicing attorneys.

Here is an excerpt…

…Probable cause:

“Probable cause” is a term used to describe the level of certainty that the police must have to (1) get an arrest warrant, (2) get a search warrant, (3) make a valid arrest, even without an arrest warrant, or (4) search a vehicle.  “Probable cause” means “more likely than not” or, in other words, better than a “50-50” chance.

Stop & frisk:

  • Stop/detention:  A “stop” or “detention” is a brief encounter between a person and the police, usually lasting 30 minutes or less.  A “stop” or “detention” will likely lead to (1) an arrest of the person if there’s probable cause, or (2) the release of the person if there’s no probable cause.  A stop or detention is valid if the police reasonably suspect criminal activity.
  • Frisk:  If, during the stop, the police reasonably suspect that a person is armed, the police may “frisk” that person.  A “frisk” is a “pat down” or touching of the person’s outer clothing to determine whether the person has a weapon.

Reasonable suspicion:

“Reasonable suspicion” is a term used to describe the level of certainty that the police must have to make or continue a stop of a person or vehicle.  In these cases, police do not have to have probable cause but must have a legitimate suspicion.  In other words, there must be more than just a “hunch” or a “guess”.           

Plain view:

“Plain view” is a term used to describe an item that is on open display.  If the police are validly in a home, building, vehicle, etc., they have the authority to seize an item if there is probable cause to believe that the item is evidence of a crime. The police cannot seize the item if they only have reasonable suspicion that it is evidence of a crime.


In law enforcement, abandonment means voluntarily disposing of property.  By example, if a person throws something away while on the street or out of a window, the police may seize that item without obtaining a warrant, without having probable cause, and without having reasonable suspicion, because the property was voluntarily abandoned.

The whole article can be obtained by contacting Warnken, LLC.