December 4, 2020 By Paul Wallin

Does the Fourth Amendment Protect a Person from Private Searches?

With few exceptions, the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without approval by a judge or magistrate. However, the Fourth Amendment does not protect a person from private searches, because the United States Constitution only protects against governmental action. 


What is the Private Search Doctrine?

Under the private search doctrine, a government search does not implicate the Fourth Amendment if the search is preceded by a private search, and the government search does not exceed the scope of the initial search. To meet the requirements of this doctrine, the private party must be acting independently of a government agency. 


In a recent case, People v. Wilson, the California Courts of Appeal denied a defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence where the defendant argued the government’s search of his files exceeded the scope of Google’s automated hash match. The question, in that case, was whether the government violated the private search doctrine when opening Mr. Wilson’s electronic files that were submitted to the government after an employee at Google reported the images as apparent child pornography.  


What are the Parameters of the Private Search Doctrine?

In applying the private search doctrine, the Attorney General in People v. Wilson relied upon the discussion in the United States Supreme Court case, United States v. Jacobsen. In Jacobsen, FedEx employees opened and inspected a package which had been damaged in transit only to discover a tube containing plastic bags filled with a small quantity of a white powdery substance. The employees repackaged the contents, and federal law enforcement agents conducted a similar inspection with the addition of a field chemical test to identify the substance as cocaine.

Wallin & Klarich Criminal Defense Attorney Orange County Fourth Amendment Private Search Doctrine

The Court held that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment, because the initial invasion by the FedEx employees constituted a private search. The private search frustrated the original expectation of privacy, so the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a governmental search of the now non-private information. Thus, the government was allowed to search the package so long as their search did not go beyond the initial inspection conducted by FedEx. Additionally, the Court determined that the field test did not violate the Fourth Amendment, because the chemical test simply confirmed that the substance was cocaine and did not further compromise the defendant’s privacy interests.

Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Wallin & Klarich Today

Here at Wallin & Klarich, our criminal defense attorneys will be there to answer your questions regarding whether your search or seizure was lawful under the law. Our attorneys are trained to see and view all angles in assessing a situation to ensure that your constitutional rights are protected. If you think you have been wrongfully accused of committing a crime, Wallin & Klarich can provide you with the legal representation you need. 


With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you can find an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available near you no matter where you are located.


Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 587-4279 for a free, no-obligation phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

Practice area

  • Contact Us Now

    If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, now is the time to contact us.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

SCHEDULE YOUR free consultation

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, this is the time to contact us.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.