Our Founders created the Constitution and Bill of Rights to guarantee the American people certain freedoms, liberties and rights. Over the years those rights have been trampled, manipulated and at times, grossly misinterpreted.
This series will focus on examples of just how many of our rights have virtually been lost.
The Fourth Amendment
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” was adopted as a protection against the widespread invasions of privacy experienced by American colonists at the hands of the British Government. So-called “writs of assistance” gave royal officers broad discretion to conduct searches of the homes of private citizens, primarily as a way of discovering violations of strict British customs laws. This practice led to a unique awareness among our Founding Fathers of the threat to individual liberty and privacy that is created by unchecked government search powers.
The Fourth Amendment has been held to mean that a search or an arrest generally requires a judicially sanctioned warrant. In order for such a warrant to be considered reasonable, it must be supported by probable cause and be limited in scope according to specific information supplied by a person (usually a law enforcement officer) who has sworn by it and is therefore accountable to the issuing court. The amendment applies to governmental searches and seizures, but not those done by private citizens or organizations who are not acting on behalf of a government.
There are three exceptions to the law where a person’s expectation of privacy is greatly reduced.
- Vehicles may not be randomly stopped and searched unless there is probable cause, but because they’re deemed areas that do not serve as residences or repositories of personal effects, items in plain view may be seized and areas that could potentially hide weapons may also be searched.
- United States borders. Random searches at our borders, including international airports, are allowed under US Customs laws.
- Public Schools. The Supreme Court ruled that searches in public schools do not require warrants, as long as the searching officers have reasonable grounds for believing that the search will result in the finding of evidence of illegal activity.
These are gray areas because we’ve seen abuse from both the law enforcement side and the citizen side. Officers continually concoct ‘reasonable cause’ for searching vehicles and conduct random inspections. They get away with it because so many people are unaware of their rights.
The Border Patrol conducts searches at checkpoints miles away from the actual border and it can include information on a traveler’s electronic materials, including personal files on a laptop computer.
School searches were approved in 1985, but it wasn’t until 2009 when they determined cavity searches were no longer permissible.
Are these violations of the Fourth Amendment?
For the sake of brevity, click below to read the story about a man who was arrested for taking videos of cops beating a guy.
The Boston Marathon Bombing
Without a doubt, the fourth amendment was repeatedly violated during the search for the second bomber. People willfully gave up their right to privacy, yet some were still treated as suspects. Judge Andrew Napolitano had this to say: “The government reach for more power to make its job easier, and people will allow it in order to feel safe. Liberty once sacrificed, never returns.”