A local police department is allegedly checking to see if citizens’ cars are open, then leaving behind warning notes.

The above note was supposedly left in the car of Reddit user johnschmidt4372, because the local cops found his doors unlocked. And according to a law professor, the police didn’t do anything wrong.

The discussion went down on Reddit, so take all of this with a grain of salt. The issue of this being a Fourth Amendment violation, which “prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures,” but apparently, it doesn’t apply to unlocked cars.

As another user and student of law, thejpn, paraphrased his law professor:

Yes, there is a physical intrusion so it would seem to be a search and, therefore, against the 4th Amendment. However, since the car is unlocked there is no expectation of privacy. No expectation of privacy means no invasion of privacy. This would also fall under the police's duty to protect and serve. The police are not searching and seizing, they are protecting citizens. This is similar to a beat cop in an urban setting checking to see if shop doors are locked.

If the officer were to see, for example, an automatic weapon, which is clearly illegal, the search would be improper because the officer did not have lawful entry. This assumes that the automatic weapon was only visible by opening the vehicle.

Furthermore, he explains that “houses” are listed specifically in the text of the Fourth Amendment, while cars are not, so the law gets a bit muddy, especially since cars have large windows, they are mobile, passengers ride in them, etc. Although it seems that an automobile would fall under the “effects” listed in the Amendment, but this why there are courts, lawyers and huge legal fees to determine these disputes.

Regardless of whether the police were following the letter of the law, how would you feel if they were going through your car and leaving these notes? And did you just double-check that your doors were locked?

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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