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Unlawful Search and Seizure

Unlawful Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment protects people “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This protection extends beyond criminal investigations and guarantees privacy and dignity against many invasive acts by government officers. It even applies when the government plays the role of an employer.

A search or seizure that violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments is actionable under the Civil Rights Acts. An unlawful search or seizure occurring at home or at work infringing upon either personal liberty or property rights creates a cause of action.


It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that a search or seizure inside a home without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. A search of a residency without a warrant and without probable cause subjects officers to § 1983 liability. Absent “exigent circumstances,” the police may not enter the home of a suspect to make his arrest without an arrest warrant. If the police have an arrest warrant that is based upon probable cause, they may enter the suspect’s home to make the arrest when there is a reason to believe that the suspect is there. Again, absent exigent circumstances, the police cannot enter the home of a third person to arrest a suspect without a search warrant. The police might also be held liable if they search the wrong house, if their mistake was not objectively reasonable.


The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches applies to administrative inspections of private commercial property. In the case of a “closely regulated industry,” however, such as gun dealerships and taverns, the traditional Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness for a government search lessens as the privacy interests of the owner are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are heightened. What this means is that a warrantless inspection of business may well be reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. As with all Fourth Amendment claims, the test is one of “objective reasonableness.”

If the search of a home or business was conducted to harass, it may subject officers to liability. And a seizure may not be justified just because it is made during a valid search.

We have had success with these types of claims.

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