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Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Posted by attorney Joshua Guillory

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

One must have a “reasonable expectation of privacy" for these protections granted by the Fourth Amendment to apply. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). In Katz, Mr. Charles Katz was making illegal gambling wagers from Los Angeles to Miami and Boston via a public pay phone booth. The FBI used electronic technology to eavesdrop and record Katz’ conversation. Katz was later convicted based on these recordings.

Justice Hugo L. Black dissented in Katz. Justice Black argued that the “modern act" of wiretapping was analogous to the act of eavesdropping, which was around even when the Bill of Rights was drafted. Black concluded that if the drafters of the Fourth Amendment had meant for it to protect against eavesdropping they would have included the proper language.

Recall that no right is absolute. For such reason, a good criminal law attorney will know landmark cases dealing with criminal law and procedure. More importantly, she will know how to apply them in her client’s case.

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