Know Your Rights: The Fourth Amendment

July 20, 2018

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 of the Constitution of the United States

Picture this: you’re relaxing at home or riding in your car, and you’re approached by the police. Do you know what to do if the officer attempts to detain you or your property? Do you know your rights? If you answered no to any of the above questions, keep reading. This article will briefly explain the importance of knowing the law, the search and seizure law, and its history and interpretation.

You or your property could be either searched or seized by the police, and there are many reasons why the police may want to search you or confiscate your belongings. A few examples include suspicious behavior, checking for matching physical descriptions, or a simple routine checkpoint. In these instances, you may not have enough time to call your lawyer. Thus, you should always be aware of your basic constitutional rights when interacting with the police.

One of the most important rights to remember is the Fourth Amendment, which operates to protect American citizens from unwarranted or unauthorized searches and seizures conducted by government officials, i.e. police officers. This law is an essential part of America’s criminal justice system. When government officials fail to respect the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment, cases could result in acquittal or even be dismissed.

Our Constitutional Framers introduced the Fourth Amendment to the nation in 1791. However, its statutory language pre-dates the Constitution of the United States and America’s existence. An English common law case, entitled Peter Semayne v. Richard Gresham, explains the importance of the “knock first rule”, where the person attempting to enter the home should do so in a manner that is respectful to the land owner. Our Constitution codified the English common law into what we know today. Still, the concepts of self-preservation and personal sovereignty have remained in the forefront of our nation’s criminal justice system.

Knowing your rights only goes so far. After an encounter with the police, you will likely need an attorney. When you talk to your lawyer now you’ll know the basics.