The Bill of Rights is a collection of 10 important amendments to the United States Constitution. Each amendment outlines crucial civil rights or protections for individuals in the United States. Most people are familiar with the First and Second Amendments, but knowledge about the contents of the individual amendments tends to taper off as the numbers increase.

Quite a few people who once learned about the Fourth Amendment can no longer tell you what it is for. Understanding it is often key to defending yourself when facing criminal charges.

What does the Fourth Amendment do?

The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally speaking, you have a right to the expectation of privacy when it comes to your home and your own body.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that the Fourth Amendment protects people from searches not just inside their home but also of exterior spaces around their residence.

What outdoor spaces should police officers get a warrant to search?

Police officers typically need either permission or a warrant to search a specific space. However, they can sometimes initiate a search without permission if they have probable cause to suspect a crime in progress even if the people in that space would typically have a right to privacy. When do your outdoor spaces have an expectation of privacy?

The answer is when you treat those spaces as part of your residence. If you use the space as part of your daily life, whether it’s your front porch or an alley next to the garage, that space is part of your home’s curtilage. Your curtilage generally has the same protection from searches as the space inside your home.

What can you do if the police violate your curtilage rights?

If police officers let themselves onto your property and go through your garage or search your backyard without probable cause, a warrant or consent, the evidence that they find may not end up usable in court. You may be able to challenge evidence that police gathered through a violation of your civil rights and prevent a prosecutor from presenting that evidence to the courts.

Understanding your rights and how the police might violate them when trying to build a case can help you decide how best to defend yourself against pending criminal charges.