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The Fourth Amendment: Tracing Relevant Key Supreme Court Decisions

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Introduction
The Fourth Amendment is one of the most cherished provisions in our Bill of Rights. The constitutional guaranty regarding searches and seizures protect all persons regardless of status or condition. This guaranty applies only to the government and prevents the government form arbitrarily disrupting the autonomy and privacy of the people. To this end, the guaranty mandates that searches and seizures must be reasonable and judicial warrants must be supported by probable cause.[1]

The Fourth Amendment was originally designed as a response to widespread invasions of privacy experienced by colonists.

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[2] These were done under British rule through “writs of assistance,” which allowed government officers to search any person or place without any temporal limit as to its applicability.[3] The Fourth Amendment provides 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.”[4]

To gain a better understanding of this constitutionally protected right against searches and seizures, it is important to discuss judicial decisions of the United States Supreme Court that have figured in evolution of the Fourth Amendment.

[5] This paper will outline the relevant key decisions that have helped shape this rule.

Evolution of the Meaning of Search and Seizure

In the beginning, all evidence, no matter how seized, could be admitted in court even if it was illegally obtained. The decision of the Supreme Court in Weeks v. United States (1914) changed this line of thinking. Weeks’s business address was searched without a valid search warrant and revealed that Weeks was using United States mail to send lottery tickets, which was a federal offense. Emboldened by the evidence thus found, Weeks’s home was searched twice without a warrant and various papers were seized. Weeks then filed suit to recover the same. The Court unanimously ruled that evidence illegally procured by a federal officer could not be presented before federal courts and ordered the return of the property.[6] This rule was later expanded in Mapp vs. Ohio (1961).

Mapp was said to have violated Ohio law with her possession of obscene material, which was seized from her without warrant when police invaded her home searching for a bombing fugitive. The Court decreed that evidence illegally obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment must be excluded from criminal prosecutions not only in federal courts, but in state courts as well. These cases form the heart of the exclusionary rule, which holds that evidence obtained in violation of Fourth Amendment rights are inadmissible in any judicial proceeding.[7]

The development of Fourth Amendment rights continued with the development of technology that the authors of the Fourth Amendment could not even have conceived. One of these decisions is Katz v. United States (1967). In Katz, police arrested Katz after he was caught gambling over a public phone, with the only evidence of the transaction coming from a recording device located outside the phone booth. The evidence was disallowed on the ground that it was gathered in a manner that violated Katz’s right to privacy.[8] This trend continues in Kyllo v. United States (2001), where the scan of Kyllo’s residence with a thermal imaging unit that revealed an indoor marijuana farm was held to be inadmissible as to support a warrant as the evidence was obtained in violation of the restrictions imposed by the Fourth Amendment.[9] Needless to say, a wiretap device and thermal imaging unit are technologies that were beyond the ken of the framers of the Fourth Amendment.

The law develops on multiple fronts with every case. For example, aside from showing how the law adapts to technology, Katz also sets the standard through which police activity may be covered under Fourth Amendment protections. This is established through a two-part test: first, the individual must “have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy;” and second, the expectation must be identified by society as (objectively) reasonable.[10]

Exceptions to Fourth Amendment Protection
It is said that every law admits of exceptions, and as such, the protection under the Fourth Amendment is not absolute. These exceptions have come about exclusively by case law, which is law derived from principles used by the United States Supreme Court in interpreting the Fourth Amendment.[11]

As the protections in the Fourth Amendment are restrictions against the government, one of the first recognized exceptions is when a person voluntarily waives his rights under it. However, the scope of the consented search exception has since been expanded to include consent given by persons who possess common authority or have frequent access over the premises such as a girlfriend or a landlord, as was the case in Illinois v. Rodriguez (1990).[12]

Another often discussed in law involve searches of moving vehicles. Automobile searches were first excluded from Fourth Amendment protections in Carroll v. U.S. (1925). However, Carroll was decided in the Prohibition, where the prevailing mindset leaned toward legislation that validated roadblocks and checkpoints.[13] Noting the chilling effect this ruling had on trade, this rule was amended to allow free and unfettered passage on public highways.

Courts have also come to justify searches at international borders because of the internationally-recognized need for state self-defense, especially from travelers entering the country. In United States v. Ramsey (1977). In this case, a U.S. Customs inspector opened letter-sized air mail envelopes in a general post office in New York City as the letter aroused suspicions because it came from Thailand, which was a notorious source of narcotics and because it was unusually bulky for its size. The Court found that this was a valid search because of the inherent right of a sovereign to secure itself and its borders.[14]

Over time, jurisprudence has also come to recognize that a valid search may be made only when it is made incidental to a lawful arrest in Chimel v. California (1969). Local police officers had a warrant against Chimel for burglary. Using the arrest warrant, they ransacked Chimel’s house where evidence leading to further prosecution was also found.[15]

Exceptions have also been made as regards searches of crime scenes. However, the mere fact that a crime scene may be searched without warrant is no license to abuse this authority. The key case in this regard is Mincey v. Arizona (1978), where police searched a residence for four days, desperately mining for evidence. The Supreme Court found this unreasonable, not necessarily in terms of time, but because of the overzealousness of the investigating officers.[16]

Courts have also concluded that “emergency situations involving endangerment to life fall squarely within the exigent circumstances exception.” In United States v. Holloway (2002), police officers responded to reports of gunfire in a residence, entering without a warrant. The Court held here that this intrusion was justified because of the endangerment to life that was possible in that situation.[17]

Designed as a loophole to the exclusionary rule, Courts have come to realize that evidence procured by defective means will nevertheless be admissible if in all likelihood it would have eventually been discovered. In Nix v. Williams (1984), Williams made statements without an attorney that led to the discovery of a missing ten-year old girl without him having informed of his various rights while under custodial investigation while police were still searching for the body. The body of the girl was admitted into evidence on the ground that it was a natural extension of police methods as if the body had been found without the help of the accused.[18]

Under the Stop and Frisk Rule, when police restrain a person’s freedom to walk away, a search of his body is necessarily limited to a pat-down search for dangerous weapons based on a reasonable suspicion, not merely a hunch that his personal security is in danger. In Terry v. Ohio (1968), the Court ruled that a policeman confiscating loose firearms from an individual he has stopped did not act in violation of the Fourth Amendment.[19]

As a matter of common sense, Courts have also realized that anything detected by the senses of a law enforcement officer does not carry Fourth Amendment protection if the officer engaged in lawful activity at the time, the object’s incriminating character was immediately apparent and not concealed, and the officer had lawful access to the object and it was discovered accidentally. However, if the discovery was not inadvertent, as in Horton v. California (1990), the evidence will be suppressed by the Court.[20]

Of the exceptions to the doctrine, the exception with the most rapidly expanding case development to the exclusionary rule is the Good Faith Doctrine. Under the Good Faith Doctrine, defective warrants may be the basis of a valid search if the warrant was procured and used in good faith. This exception is based on two cases decided in 1984. In United States. v. Leon (1984), Leon’s house was searched on the basis of a warrant procured on an anonymous tip, which was later found to be defective, and this defect caused the evidence to be inadmissible at trial.[21] However, in Massachusetts v. Sheppard (1984), police used a defective warrant to search Sheppard’s place for bloodstained clothing but the evidence was nevertheless accepted because there were enough grounds for the police to enter Sheppard’s place even without the warrant.[22]

Finally, Courts have allowed for the development of the Open Fields Doctrine, which holds that only houses, papers, effects, and curtilage are protected under the Fourth Amendment such that abandoned items and items in a field for all to view are not protected. In Oliver v. United States (1984), the Court ruled that in such situations where the expectation of privacy is unreasonable, the Fourth Amendment cannot apply.[23]

Conclusion
Because the landscape of the Fourth Amendment is always changing, jurisprudence has and continues to identify, explain, and clarify exceptions to Fourth Amendment protection. As can be seen from this paper, the story is not one that is linear or easy to explain. It is a convoluted tapestry that provides a blanket of protection to the common man that government has and will always have to respect.

Table of References
Articles
“Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution>.

“History of the Fourth Amendment.” 2005. Flex your Right Foundation. 26 Nov. 2006. <http://www.flexyourrights.org/fourth_amendment_history>.

“Katz v. United States.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 16 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katz_v._United_States>.

O’Connor, T.  “Search and Seizure Guide” 15 May 2006. MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. 26 Nov. 2006. <http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/405/405lect04.htm>.

“Writs of Assistance.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writs_of_Assistance>.

Periodicals
Davies, Thomas Y. “Recovering the Original Fourth Amendment.”  Michigan Law Review. 98(1999):553.

Maclin, Tracey. “The Complexity of the Fourth Amendment: A Historical Review.” Boston University Law Review 77(1997):945

Lasson, Nelson B. “The History and Development of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution” Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical Political Science 82(1937).

Case Law
Carroll v. United States,  267 U.S. 132 (1925).

Chimel v. California. 395 U.S. 752 (1969)

Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990).

Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990).

Katz v. United States. 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001).

Mapp vs. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

Massachusetts v. Sheppard, 468 U.S. 981 (1984).

Mincey v. Arizona, 437 US. 385 (1978).

Nix v. Williams. 467 U.S. 431 (1984).

Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170 (1984).

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

United Statesv. Ramsey, 431 U.S. 606 (1977).

United States v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002).

United States v. Leon. 468 U.S. 897 (1984).

Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914).

[1] “History of the Fourth Amendment.” 2005. Flex your Right Foundation. 26 Nov. 2006. <http://www.flexyourrights.org/fourth_amendment_history>.
[2] See Maclin, Tracey. “The Complexity of the Fourth Amendment: A Historical Review.” Boston University Law Review 77(1997):945; Lasson, Nelson B. “The History and Development of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution” Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical Political Science 82(1937).
[3] “Writs of Assistance.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writs_of_Assistance>.
[4] “Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution>.
[5] See Davies, Thomas Y. “Recovering the Original Fourth Amendment.”  Michigan Law Review. 98(1999):553.
[6] Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914).
[7] Mapp vs. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).
[8] Katz v. United States. 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
[9] Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001).
[10] “Katz v. United States.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 16 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Nov 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katz_v._United_States>.
[11] O’Connor, T.  “Search and Seizure Guide” 15 May 2006. MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. 26 Nov. 2006. <http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/405/405lect04.htm>.
[12] Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990).
[13] Carroll v. United States,  267 U.S. 132 (1925).
[14] United Statesv. Ramsey, 431 U.S. 606 (1977).
[15] Chimel v. California. 395 U.S. 752 (1969)
[16] Mincey v. Arizona, 437 US. 385 (1978).
[17] United States v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002).
[18] Nix v. Williams. 467 U.S. 431 (1984).
[19] Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
[20] Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990).
[21] United States v. Leon. 468 U.S. 897 (1984).
[22] Massachusetts v. Sheppard, 468 U.S. 981 (1984).
[23] Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170 (1984).

Cite this The Fourth Amendment: Tracing Relevant Key Supreme Court Decisions

The Fourth Amendment: Tracing Relevant Key Supreme Court Decisions. (2017, Jan 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-fourth-amendment-tracing-relevant-key-supreme-court-decisions/

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