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Houston Criminal Defense Attorney - Case Law Summaries from the 4th Amendment

Houston Criminal Defense Attorney - Brian Foley - Board Certified in Criminal Law.


The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This amendment is a cornerstone of individual privacy rights in the United States, and has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in a number of important cases over the years.

  1. Mapp v. Ohio (1961): This case established that evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure is not admissible in state court. The Court ruled that the exclusionary rule, which had previously only been applied to federal courts, must also be applied to state courts. (367 U.S. 643)

  2. Katz v. United States (1967): This case established that the 4th Amendment applies to electronic surveillance, and that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in areas where they have a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable. (389 U.S. 347)

  3. Terry v. Ohio (1968): This case established the principle of "stop and frisk," which allows police officers to briefly detain and search a person if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity. (392 U.S. 1)

  4. Chimel v. California (1969): This case established the principle of "search incident to arrest," which allows police officers to search a person and the area within their immediate control when they are arrested. (395 U.S. 752)

  5. United States v. United States District Court (1972): This case established the principle of "prior judicial authorization," which requires the government to obtain a warrant before conducting electronic surveillance. (407 U.S. 297)

  6. United States v. Miller (1976): This case established that the 4th Amendment does not protect an individual's records or documents that they have voluntarily turned over to a third party, such as a bank. (425 U.S. 435)

  7. New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985): This case established that the 4th Amendment applies to searches and seizures conducted by school officials, and that the standard for such searches is "reasonable suspicion." (469 U.S. 325)

  8. California v. Ciraolo (1986): This case established that aerial surveillance of a person's backyard does not constitute a search under the 4th Amendment, as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in open areas. (476 U.S. 207)

  9. Kyllo v. United States (2001): This case established that the use of thermal imaging to detect heat patterns inside a person's home constitutes a search under the 4th Amendment, and that a warrant is required. (533 U.S. 27)

  10. Riley v. California (2014): This case established that the police must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a person's cell phone during an arrest. (134 S. Ct. 2473)

These are some of the most significant cases that have helped shape the interpretation and application of the 4th Amendment in the United States. They have set important precedents for what constitutes a reasonable search and seizure, and for the kind of evidence that can be used in court.


In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued several decisions that have strengthened the requirement for search warrants in the context of cell phone searches. These decisions have recognized the unique privacy interests associated with cell phones, and have established new limits on the government's ability to search and seize these devices without a warrant.



In Riley v. California (2014), the Supreme Court held that the police must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a person's cell phone during an arrest. The Court acknowledged the vast amount of personal and sensitive information that can be stored on a cell phone, and the privacy interests at stake when these devices are searched. The Court held that the warrantless search of a cell phone's contents is unconstitutional, as it is not reasonable under the 4th Amendment.


In Carpenter v. United States (2018) the Supreme court held that the government must obtain a warrant before accessing a person's cell-site location information (CSLI). The Court recognized that CSLI can reveal an individual's specific movements over an extended period of time, and that this information can be highly sensitive and revealing. The Court held that a warrant is required in order to access this information because it constitutes a search under the 4th amendment.


In these decisions, the Supreme Court has acknowledged the distinct privacy concerns associated with cell phones, and has established new limits on the government's ability to search and seize these devices without a warrant. These decisions have reinforced the importance of the 4th Amendment in protecting individual privacy in the digital age, and have clarified the standard for when a warrant is required for a cell phone search.

It is worth noting that the court has recognized that certain exigent circumstances may allow for a warrantless search of a cell phone, but the bar for exigency is set high and it is not a common scenario.


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For the general public: This Blog/Web Site is for educational purposes only and it provides general information and a general understanding of the law, but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship created. Don't just read this as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney.


For attorneys: This Blog is informational and educational in nature and is not a substitute for Westlaw or other research and consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. As you know the law can change day to day based on recent case opinions. And unfortunately you shouldn't cite it in court as binding authority because it is not. Mention it to your friends, just seek real consultation if it’s something important.


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