Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Unreasonable Search and Seizure

            The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday concerns the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The wording of the Fourth Amendment is as follows:

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.

            Elizabeth Slattery and John-Michael Seibler at The Daily Signal reported last week that the U.S. Supreme Court made an important decision on a Fourth Amendment case. The Court ruled that a police officer must obtain a warrant before entering a private driveway to search a parked vehicle. When I first heard of the case, I thought it was a flimsy reason for going to court and was very much on the side of the officer. However, the more I read about it, the more I understand that this was an important ruling. It protects citizens from having police officers walking around on their property looking for evidence of a crime.

            The article claims that an important feature of the Fourth Amendment is that it protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” It usually requires that an officer “obtain a warrant before searching or seizing someone’s property.”

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally requires police to obtain a warrant before searching or seizing someone’s property. The Supreme Court has recognized several exceptions to the warrant requirement, however, including for automobiles – since they can be driven off at a moment’s notice, and are subject to manifold regulations, courts will allow police to search vehicles based on probable cause that a crime has occurred without first obtaining a warrant.

The court has also determined that police may not search the curtilage of a home (that is, the area immediately surrounding a home) without a warrant.

Finally, the court has established that when a Fourth Amendment violation is found, typically a judge-made rule called “the exclusionary rule” applies, which commands the trial court to exclude evidence that was obtained illegally.

            The Collins v. Virginia case came about because a police officer walked up a driveway to look at a motorcycle that he thought was involved in “two separate traffic violations and high-speed police evasions, and was likely stolen. The officer confirmed that it was the motorcycle in question and that it was stolen, and later arrested Ryan Collins, who had left the motorcycle there at his girlfriend’s home” covered by a tarp.     
            The Virginia courts ruled against Collins, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Eight members of the Supreme Court ruled that “when the automobile exception and protection of the curtilage collide, the latter wins….”

            Slattery and Seibler write about some interesting highlights to this case. You can find them in the article.  It sounds to me that the officer who inspected the bike considered it to be an automobile and, therefore, thought there was an exception. However, the court ruling means that citizens are protected from officers roaming around their property without first having a warrant. Freedom from unreasonable search is always a good thing.

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