Political Broad

Fourth Amendment addresses search procedures

Following on the heels of the Third Amendment, and enforcing the notion that “each man’s home is his castle,” the Fourth Amendment has been the basis for many opinions regarding appropriate law enforcement and governmental procedures. Again, we are looking at an individual’s right to privacy and freedom from governmental intrusion.

The following is a transcription of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in its original form.

Amendment IV

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.

Numerous court decisions have further clarified the definition of a reasonable search and seizure. To date, decisions have been reached regarding searches of homes, persons, cars and schools.

The earliest case was decided in 1946, Davis vs. United States, and stated a warrantless search can be made if an officer is given consent by a homeowner. The most recent cases were both decided in 2009, and both involve vehicle searches – Arizona vs. Gant and Arizona vs. Johnson.

Following is a summary of decisions relating to the Fourth Amendment:

Payton vs. New York, 1980, search and seizure in a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable. It also states warrantless searches may be made if there is probable cause or when lives are in imminent danger or belief exists that evidence will be destroyed. Other court cases define exceptions to warrantless searches;

Davis vs. United States, 1946, consent by homeowner;

United States vs. Robinson, 1973, search is permissible in relation to a lawful arrest;

Maryland vs. Macon, 1985, when evidence is in plain view;

Terry vs. Ohio, 1968, when an officer observes an individual’s unusual behavior he can be compelled to confirm or dispell his suspicions by searching the person;

New Jersey vs. TLO, 1985, school officials have authority to search students without warrant if reasonable suspicion exists;

Arizona vs. Gant, 2009, an officer may search a vehicle if probable cause exists it contains evidence;

United States vs. Arvizu, 2002, traffic stops are permissible if a violation has been observed or suspicion is aroused that a crime is imminent;

Arizona vs. Johnson, 2009, officers have authority to pat down drivers and passengers during a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity;

Illinois vs. Cabales, 2005, drug-sniffing dogs may search the exterior of a vehicle during a valid traffic stop without the requirement of suspicion;

United States vs. Montoya de Hernandez, 1985, border agents are authorized to conduct routine stops and searches;

Illinois vs. Lidster, 2004, checkpoints are permissible to allow law enforcement to gather information from motorists;

Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, 1990, like the above case this decision allows the use of highway sobriety checkpoints; and

City of Indianapolis vs. Edmond, 2000, interestingly to the contrary a state may not use a highway checkpoint to discover illegal narcotics.

The one case I expect to see more prominently tested in the coming years is the Terry vs. Ohio case. Commonly referred to as the stop-and-frisk approach, its use has been frequently publicly debated, even recently during the past election debates.

Law enforcement agencies must engage delicately in this tactic to avoid racial profiling. Determining the line between our personal right to privacy and public safety can be tricky. Especially when a criminal element refuses to conform to legal standards and will manipulate the system to his advantage.

Resources: www.uscourts.gov, supreme.justia.com

Laurie Chapman publishes Political Broad bi-monthly and takes an informative, opinionated peek at the functions of government. If you have a suggestion for the author, e-mail her at lchapman@idahocountyfreepress.com or call her at 208-983-1200.


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