Private Searches

An attorney with a Grand Rapids criminal law firm outlines the limitations of the Fourth Amendment’s standards concerning private searches.


According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, unreasonable search and seizure is forbidden to government agencies only. Private entities are not restricted in this way. The Fourth Amendment applies if a search is being conducted by people who are either government officials or persons acting on their behalf. An informant who routinely works with a government agency would be seen as acting on the agency’s behalf. The Fourth Amendment also applies if government representatives become part of a search conducted by a private entity as the search is actively going on.


There are certain circumstances under which you might give up the right to privacy in an article. Such an action might include:

• Putting the item in a dumpster or trash can by the roadside.
• Tossing contraband out of the window of a car during a police pursuit.
• Dropping a duffel bag in the public area of a bus terminal or other location and leaving it there.

In such a case, if the item is picked up in a search and examined, you cannot object to the search on Fourth Amendment grounds. If, on the other hand, you give something to someone else for safekeeping or put it aside and return to it shortly, you have not abandoned the article. If you give a flash drive or other computer storage device to someone after packaging it and marking it “private”, it is neither abandoned nor subject to search. Neither you nor your Grand Rapids criminal lawyer are responsible for proving that an article is abandoned. That rests with the government.


Be sure you understand your rights under the Fourth Amendment. Contact Blanchard Law, your Grand Rapids criminal law firm, by calling (616) 773-2945 today.

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