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My right to privacy at home, in my car, and within my emails is one of the most fundamental rights protecting about who I am as a person. One of the amendments that present this right is the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. The definition of the Fourth Amendment is very simple – it forbids the act of unreasonable searches and seizures. Or, as the US Constitution states, the people have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
This right limits the power of the police to seize and search our property homes and information. It requires a warrant, issued by a magistrate, judge or Supreme Court Official for a law enforcement officer to be able to conduct a search of a person, at his location or vehicle. At the time of the American Revolution, the Fourth Amendment was proposed by James Madison in 1789. The amendment grew from the War of Independence and the struggle of the colonists against the British rule. Its historical roots go back to the English tradition of ”my house is my castle,” where the authority of the King’s officer was limited to enter people’s houses and conduct arrests. King George introduced the use of the conveniently worded “writs of assistance.” These were legal search warrants that were very broad and obscure in detail. British officers could receive a “writ of assistance” to examine any grounds they believed might have contraband. They could access someone’s property or home with no announcement and without any reason. Officers were allowed to question anyone about their goods and force agreement of any person. These kinds of searches and seizures became a regular thing in the colonies but over time the colonists became furious. The US Congress proposed the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789.
On March 1, 1792, the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, announced the approval of the amendment. After independence, the Fourth Amendment was interpreted in its’ very much original meaning — as a way to keep the government in check from collecting or searching a person or their property without a warrant. To avoid the abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment by providing either too general reasons for a search warrant, and allowing low ranking officials to issue warrants, the US constitution requires a certain level of authority and a legitimate purpose to be present. The Fourth Amendment states that “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.” Search or seizure has to have been cleared by a judge, against a strong preliminary evidence of illegal activity.
Although, a warrant is needed in theory before the police can search, there are acceptable exemptions. A warrantless search is allowed if the purpose of the search follows the officer’s reason to believe that contraband or other evidence may be destroyed or discarded before a search warrant could be issued. On the other hand, there are consequences to a warrantless search. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1950s that if the police seizes evidence without a warrant, it will be written as an illegal search, and then the evidence is not allowed in court and even if the defendant could be guilty, the court has to let him walk crimeless and disregard the evidence which was obtained illegally. This is called the “exclusionary rule.” One example of this is the Georgia v. Randolph case. “Scott Randolph was arrested for drug possession after police found cocaine in his home. The police did not have a warrant to search the home, but Randolph’s wife consented to the search. Randolph was also present at the time of the search, however, and objected to the police request. At trial, his attorney argued that the search was unconstitutional because of Randolph’s objection, while the prosecution argued that the consent of his wife was sufficient. The trial court ruled for the prosecution, but the appellate court and Georgia Supreme Court both sided with Randolph, finding that a search is unconstitutional if one resident objects, even if another resident consents. No. In a 5 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court held that when two co-occupants are present and one consents to a search while the other refuses, the search is not constitutional. Justice David Souter, in the majority opinion, compared the reasonableness of such a search to a more casual interaction. Souter wrote, “it is fair to say that a caller standing at the door of shared premises would have no confidence that one occupant’s invitation was a sufficiently good reason to enter when a fellow tenant stood there saying, “stay out.”
Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions.” A police search in such circumstances, Souter wrote, would therefore not meet the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.” However, there are also some other exceptions such as the need for officers to follow certain rules even if they get a warrant. One of those rules is the knock-and-announce rule. This rule compels police officers to execute a search warrant without immediately forcing their way into a person’s residency. Instead, he or she must first knock on that person’s door, identify himself or herself and his or her intention. They also have to wait a moderate amount of time for the residents to let them into their residence. The Supreme Court has held that the knock-and-announce rule forms part of a judge’s hearing into supporting the reasonableness of a search under the Fourth Amendment. This is shown in the case of Hudson v. Mitchell: “Booker T. Hudson was convicted of drug and firearm possession in state court after police found cocaine and a gun in his home. The police had a search warrant but failed to follow the Fourth Amendment “knock and announce” rule which requires police officers to wait 20-30 seconds after knocking and announcing their presence before they enter the home. The trial judge ruled that the evidence found in the home could therefore not be used, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed based on two Michigan Supreme Court cases that created an exception to the suppression of evidence when the evidence in question would have inevitably been found. No. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that evidence need not be excluded when police violate the “knock-and-announce” rule.
The opinion by Justice Scalia reaffirmed the validity of both the knock-and-announce rule and the “exclusionary rule” for evidence obtained by police in most cases of Fourth Amendment violation. However, the majority held that the exclusionary rule could not be invoked for evidence obtained after a knock-and-announce violation because the interests violated by the abrupt entry of the police “have nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence.” Justice Scalia wrote that the knock-and-announce rule was meant to prevent violence, property damage, and impositions on privacy, not to prevent police from conducting a search for which they have a valid warrant. The Court also found that the social costs of the exclusionary rule as applied to the knock-and-announce rule outweighed any possible “deterrence benefits,” and that alternative measures such as civil suits and internal police discipline could adequately deter violations. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg. The dissent noted the Court’s long history of upholding the exclusionary rule and doubted that the majority’s cited precedents supported its conclusion. The dissent also expressed doubt that knock-and-announce violations could be deterred without excluding the evidence obtained from the searches.”Recently, the Fourth Amendment has become a heavily debated topic. After 9/11 and with the ”War on Terror,” the focus of the government and the media has been on how and where to strike the balance between “security for the public” and “rights of the individual” protected by the Fourth Amendment.
In 2014, revelations were made about a massive spying program by the government on almost all American citizens. In recent years, the US has witnessed an escalation of ‘stop and frisk’ acts by the police, driven often by racial profiling and racial bias. There have been plenty of police-citizen confrontations about search and seizure, where unarmed civilians have been shot during car searches for refusing search without a warrant. According to the statistics, most of these victims have been African Americans. The issue of the government spying on its own citizens “without a warrant” has been a scandal since Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor leaked and revealed to the American public the scale of the Government surveillance program. Under this program of total surveillance, using sophisticated algorithms and software technology, the federal government has been listening to everyone’s cell phone conversations and watching everybody’s chats on social media, forcing phone companies to share customers’ information without them knowing.
Going through peoples’ texts, emails, phone conversations, and cloud storage today violates the privacy protected by the 18th century Fourth Amendment. Another problem is the rapid increase in numbers of the use of cheap aerial surveillance technology, such as drones, it becomes easier to violate our privacy and spy in our daily lives. This technology is so easily acquired, the government, as well as everyday people, can use it for bad intentions. However, due to the Fourth Amendment, certain regulations now exist, such as the need for a license or permission to film people and property in private areas. Information and not the physical property is today’s most precious resource. Unlocking someone’s phone data can provide access to an enormous amount of people, networks, and resources and can also put hundreds and thousands of them in jeopardy. This brings up the question: “Is the Fourth Amendment still relevant today?” Does it fulfill its purpose to protect people’s privacy? Can the Fourth Amendment protect us against the intrusion of the government and the commercial surveillance of the big companies? I believe that the Fourth Amendment is still very relevant today, and it does protect privacy at a certain level, however, there are many exceptions and unresolved dilemmas. In conclusion, although life circumstances have changed over time, the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment has evolved as well, as seen in the cases cited above. earlier.
Maybe today, the Founding Fathers would not be able to make sense of our reality and the new technologies used to control our lives. However, we are still trying to make sense of the constitutional protection of our privacy which they have formulated and still use it as a legal protection against the invasion of our privacy. Of course, privacy is a broader concept and cuts across several constitutional areas for legal protection: the first amendment, the third amendment, fifth amendment, and the fourteenth amendment.
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