The Fourth Amendment – in case you forgot:
The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires “reasonable” governmental searches and seizures to be conducted only upon issuance of a warrant, judicially sanctioned by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. Under the Fourth Amendment, search and seizure (including arrest) should be limited in scope according to specific information supplied to the issuing court, usually by a law enforcement officer who has sworn by it. Fourth Amendment case law deals with three issues: what government activities constitute “search” and “seizure”; what constitutes probable cause for these actions; and how violations of Fourth Amendment rights should be addressed. Early court decisions limited the amendment’s scope to a law enforcement officer’s physical intrusion onto private property, but with Katz v. United States (1967), the Supreme Court held that its protections, such as the warrant requirement, extend to the privacy of individuals as well as physical locations. Law enforcement officers need a warrant for most search and seizure activities, but the Court has defined a series of exceptions for consent searches, motor vehicle searches, evidence in plain view, exigent circumstances, border searches, and other situations.
The exclusionary rule is one way the amendment is enforced. Established in Weeks v. United States (1914), this rule holds that evidence obtained through a Fourth Amendment violation is generally inadmissible at criminal trials. Evidence discovered as a later result of an illegal search may also be inadmissible as “fruit of the poisonous tree”, unless it inevitably would have been discovered by legal means.
The Fourth Amendment was adopted in response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, a type of general search warrant issued by the British government, and a major source of tension in pre-Revolutionary America. The Fourth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress submitted the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789. By December 15, 1791, the necessary three-fourths of the states had ratified it. On March 1, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the amendment.
Because the Bill of Rights did not initially apply to the states, and federal criminal investigations were less common in the first century of the nation’s history, there is little significant case law for the Fourth Amendment before the 20th century. The Amendment was held to apply to the states in Mapp v. Ohio (1961).
Thank you Wikipedia.
Until the 1960s, Search and Seizure, and in fact a lot of laws which protected the accused (like the Miranda Warning which didn’t come on to the scene until 1966) were up for fast-and-loose interpretation.
This discussion, part of the weekly series American Forum Of The Air, puts a panel of legal experts together to discuss the Fourth Amendment and how it was being implemented (or ignored) in 1956.
Fascinating stuff – and in a way, shows how far we’ve come in criminal law – but also how recent those changes have taken place. Remember, this was all in the days well before bodycams, Instagram and Youtube. Can you imagine if they were around in 1956? History would definitely be different.