Invasion of Privacy

Police Invade your Privacy or Civil Rights?

Your privacy rights can be violated in many ways—many of which you may not even be aware of. Under specific circumstances, such invasions are civil rights violations.

Illegal Home Search

A search or seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment will allow you to sue the police under the Civil Rights Acts. This equates to an infringement on your personal liberty or property rights.

One example occurs when two or more people live together and are asked by police if they can search the home, if one occupant gives permission for the search while the other does not, entry will render the search unconstitutional and illegal. Georgia v. Randolph (2006) 547 U.S. 103.

Another example is where you may allow the police to enter your home but you later change your mind and request that they leave, they must comply with your demands unless they have independent legal authority to stay there. Manzanares v. Higdon (10th Cir. 2009) 575 F.3d 1135.

The most basic of rules for illegal searches, however, is where police search a home without a warrant and without probable cause. This is a violation of your civil rights.

Illegal Search of a Business

Less frequent, but equally unconstitutional are business searches where people who are present cannot be detained for an unreasonable length of time, or through unreasonable circumstances, or for improper purposes. Ganwich v. Knapp (9th Cir. 2003) 319 F.3d 1115.

Police may also not destroy property unreasonably. Johnson v. Manitowoc County (7th Cir. 2011) 635 F.3d 331.

Other civil rights violations may include harassment of a business or pretextual searches that do not correspond to the real purpose of the search.

Illegal Electronic Surveillance

Many incidences may render electronic surveillance (or “wiretap”) illegal. One particularly disturbing method is called the “Hand Off” procedure.

A police unit gathers evidence of escalating criminal conduct through a wiretap. The unit then transmits the information to another unit without disclosing how they came across the information. Once the second police unit arrives on the scene to observe the criminal activity, they then establish independent probable cause. The existence of the original electronic surveillance would never be disclosed to the accused. This procedure negates the probable cause that is needed to make a legal arrest.

Strip Search & Body Cavity Searches

Our court system has recognized the extreme invasion of privacy that strip searches cause. Bell v. Wolfish (1979) 441 U.S. 520. Courts have used the words to describe such searches as “demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant, embarrassing, repulsive, signifying degradation and submission.” Mary Beach G. v. City of Chicago (7th Cir. 1983) 723 F.2d 1263.

As a general rule, the greater the intrusion, the greater the reason must be to conduct the search. Blackburn v. Snow (1st Cir. 1985) 771 F.2d 556, 565.

A strip search must be designed to minimize the emotional and physical trauma to the person that is being searched, and must be conducted in private. Because of the complexity and serious nature of these searches, a confidential consultation with an experienced attorney is recommended.

Right to Privacy

Sometimes referred to as “personal rights”, a person’s Right to Privacy extends over the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Many people mix up their Privacy Rights with their right to Privacy under the Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” laws.

Privacy rights protect against the unjustified invasion of one’s right to privacy such as avoiding disclosure of personal matters, or whether officers may disclose intimate information of a person they have arrested or are investigating.

Some examples include where a police officer obtains a video or photos showing someone in an explicit sexual encounter and distributes the pictures or video to other officers.

Illegal Interrogation

You may have a claim against police if they have secured an involuntary confession from using a coercive interrogation method against you. This coercive interrogation is decided on the totality of the circumstances and must show that the police tactics used had somehow undermined your ability to exercise your free will. Cunningham v. City of Wenatchee (9th Cir. 2003) 345 F.3d 802.

Many interrogations that lead to forced confessions are used in criminal proceedings, which open up many other issues in the context of criminal defense.

To know where your rights come into play whether in a criminal context or in a civil rights context, it is highly advised that you consult with an experienced defense lawyer that can guide you.