History of the Fourth Amendment
What most people are not aware or tend to be ignorant of is the fact that it is quite dangerous to turn a blind eye to history (Schulhofer, 2012, p. 17). Those living in the 21st Century have easily forgotten where the majority of their freedoms come from. Military commanders, leaders of countries as well as various societies have completely ignored history with awe-inspiring outcomes.
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Considering the fact that the Fourth Amendment is rather important to America, it is quite fitting to study the history behind its beginning and its integration into the United States Constitution (McInnis, 2010, p. 50). The Fourth Amendment has its derivation dating back from 1791 where it was introduced to the US Constitution and made part of the Bill of Rights.
This Amendment is specifically intended to protect individuals from the unlawful searching of their homes as well as private property without authorized search warrants (Johnson, 2009, p.74). For this unreasonable factor to be determined two essential interests must be balanced; these are, the intrusion on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, and legitimate government interests, for instance, public safety (Carmen, 2013, p.41).
The initiators of the Amendment believed that being free from the intrusion of the government into one’s home is a natural right and therefore indispensable to liberty (Taslitz, 2006, p.101). Once the Fourth Amendment was made part of the US Constitution, it was first and foremost implemented in the federal government.
However, it was later related to the states via the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment (Schulhofer, 2012, p. 21). The Fourth Amendment is important as it dictates that law enforcement officers behave in an ethical manner and requires that a search be founded on probable cause (McInnis, 2010, p. 51).
Society’s Response and Controversies related to the Fourth Amendment
Since its inception or rather an introduction to the US Constitution, the Fourth Amendment has resulted in a number of controversies from the society. It is a fact that in a society that not only condemns crime and values independence, but there is also bound to be tension between law enforcement interests and the privacy of the public (Carmen, 2013, p. 45).
The 21st Century has allowed criminals to add to their ability of hiding crime together with its proceeds, thus forcing the law enforcement to work hard in order to keep up. This has, in turn, inspired investigative techniques that tend to step on the rights to privacy and the Fourth Amendment rights of innocent American citizens (Johnson, 2009, p. 76).
While the federal government has made efforts of protecting the public from criminals and particularly terrorist acts since the 9/11 bombings of the Twin Towers, the public has raised concerns about how the government is going about it. It seems as though the government has taken advantage of its national security measures and went on to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the citizens through unreasonable searches and seizures.
The society feels that the law enforcement agencies have also taken advantage and are now practicing discrimination where racial minority groups are concerned (Taslitz, 2006, p. 102).
In the past, the very first controversy was in 1967 when the Fourth Amendment was violated by federal agents who fixed a wiretap to the outside of a telephone booth that was usually used by a gambler (Schulhofer, 2012, p.29). The Court held that what mattered was whether or not the suspect had a reasonable expectation of privacy (McInnis, 2010, p. 52).
Today, the latest controversy regarding the violation of this particular Amendment is the adaptation of privacy protections to new realities of GPS devices. With such devices, the government can track down criminal suspects and monitor their activities.
However, the Fourth Amendment has been violated by the law enforcers who take advantage of this technology to spy on innocent American citizens, without probable cause (Carmen, 2013, p. 59). As has been stated earlier, the main purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect American citizens in their homes as well as on their persons from unlawful or unfair searches and seizures.
Looking at controversies such as the 2010 law in Arizona, some people believe that the security of the American citizens should be a priority over that of illegal immigrants (Johnson, 2009, p. 78). This simply means that if the federal government feels it has a reason to question the legality of one’s immigration status, the request is not unreasonable and therefore, such an individual may be searched without a warrant.
Those who have such beliefs seem to forget that by so doing, the law enforcement officers would be directly in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They would also be discriminating on the individuals due to their race or color (Taslitz, 2006, p. 103). The Fourth Amendment protects all American citizens irrespective of their racial background, ethnicity, gender, sex, or color.
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How the Fourth Amendment has Evolved with Time
The Fourth Amendment has greatly evolved with time; the way it was applied in the past is not the same way it is being applied in the 21st Century. This Amendment gets much of its inspiration from the experience of the American colonies with the English Crown’s issuance of General Warrants (Schulhofer, 2012, p. 32).
These warrants, during that period, enabled government agents to have the authority to search and seize whatever they desired, without necessarily having a cause. The public issued several complaints, thus leading to a majority of the states to outlaw the use of these Warrants. This is also the time when the Fourth Amendment was included in the Constitution after the passing of the Bill of Rights (McInnis, 2010, p. 53).
With time, the issue of search and seizure was not yet prominent up until the Supreme Court case of Weeks vs. United States in 1914, where police officers entered the home of Fremont Weeks, and seized papers that would later be used to convict him of transporting lottery tickets via the mail (Carmen, 2013, p. 60).
The search and seizure were abrasively carried out without formal warrants, and the plaintiff decided to take legal action against the government, thus formally requesting the return of his private possessions.
The case later came to be recognized as monumental with regards to the Fourth Amendment as it also established the ‘Exclusionary Rule’ which states that any proof gathered by the government in violation of the Amendment rights of the accused cannot assist in the conviction of the person (Johnson, 2009, p. 81).
Today, the majority of legal and political commentators are continuously arguing the advantages of the Exclusionary Rule, suggesting that it protects those who are guilty and tend to pervert justice (Taslitz, 2006, p. 104).
Others declare that this Rule is a firm verification against law enforcers who happen to be overzealous in the violation of individuals’ rights to make arrests. With the commencement of the War on Terror, which was initiated soon after the 9/11 bombing attacks on American soil, the protection of the Fourth Amendment rights has rapidly gained recognition.
As a way of combating terrorism locally, the PATRIOT Act allows government agents to perform warrantless wiretaps of phone calls as well as e-mails (Schulhofer, 2012, p. 38). This is one of the issues that have brought about controversies with today’s society regarding the violations of the Fourth Amendment. The society no longer feels safe since their rights to privacy are being grossly violated, all in the name of War on Terror.
It is a fact that from what has been recently observed, people have easily forgotten where their freedom comes from. The Fourth Amendment is considered to be quite important to American history and has so far managed to protect American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement agencies.
However, several controversies have also been brought forth regarding this particular Amendment and the invasion of people’s privacy, for instance, government surveillance and monitoring of phone calls.
The issue of discrimination against racial minority groups has also been raised as yet another controversy where it is argued that people from this particular group tend to be stopped and arrested on suspicion of engaging in criminal activity more than their white counterparts.
I believe that for the society to be able to eradicate such discrimination, it should not only emphasize on the importance of the ‘Exclusionary Rule,’ but also enforce strict punishment to law enforcers who do not adhere to the Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment, together with the requirements of probable cause, is generally aimed at protecting innocent civilians at all cost.
Carmen, R. (2013). Criminal Procedure: Law and Practice. 9th Edition. New York: Cengage Learning.
Johnson, T. (2009). Legal Rights. New York: Infobase Publishing.
McInnis, T.N. (2010). The Evolution of the Fourth Amendment. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Schulhofer, S.J. (2012). More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Taslitz, A.E. (2006). Reconstructing the Fourth Amendment: A History of Search and Seizure, 1789 – 1868. New York: NYU Press.