How the Fourth Amendment Protects Americans

The fourth amendment in the United States Constitution is colloquially known as the “search and seizure” amendment. It eliminates unreasonable searches and seizures, which are defined as searches without probable cause and that have not been sanctioned through a warrant issued by a magistrate or judge. In this article, we will be looking at what this amendment entails and how it has been protecting United States citizens.

Understanding Unreasonable Search and Seizure

Searches and seizures are conducted when there is suspicion of criminal activity and where law enforcement needs to collect evidence for a new or ongoing case. However, there is a limit to these searches and seizures because they should not be conducted in such a way that they violate the rights of citizens. When this happens, we get into unreasonable search and seizure.

An unreasonable search and seizure, apart from being executed without a legal warrant, is conducted without probable cause of an ongoing or past crime, without the indication of available evidence on the person, place, automobile, document, or effects being searched or seized, or without the need to extend the reach of a past search and seizure warrant.

If any of the above happens, you should get in touch with an unreasonable search and seizure lawyer, especially in cases where law enforcement finds incriminating evidence on you, your property, or effects.

Understanding all this, how has the fourth amendment and its enforcement helped American citizens?

Stopping ‘Stop and Frisk’ Practices

Stop and frisk is where a police officer stops someone on the street to pat them down for weapons. There is little evidence to show that these practices reduce crime. Additionally, they were used by the police to unfairly target ethnic minorities in the United States.

The Fourth Amendment explicitly states the police must have a reasonable suspicion the person being stopped has committed a crime, has done so in the past, or is about to do so. Additionally, the court ruled in 2015 that the stop has to last only as long as it takes to pat a “suspect” down.

If it takes more time than is reasonable, it becomes an unreasonable search and seizure. This also applies to when a police officer finishes patting down a suspect and then has a police dog sniff them for drugs.

Because of documented evidence that these practices unfairly target black communities, states like New York have started implementing new practices to reduce their negative impact.

Digital Surveillance

Digital surveillance has always been a complicated subject when looked at through the lens of the Fourth Amendment. Because the fourth amendment also covers unreasonable searches of effects, it is interpreted to mean it protects devices, vehicles, and other personal possessions.

In the past, the Supreme Court held that the police could not get cell phone location data on suspects without first obtaining a warrant. Then, there is the issue of prolonged video surveillance. Lower courts are still debating that one, but at this time the police cannot carry out prolonged video surveillance due to a person not being “secure” during such surveillance, a right also guaranteed by the fourth amendment.

The Fourth Amendment has stopped the violation of the rights of a lot of American citizens. While some of its details are still being legislated in lower courts, we expect it will continue to do so even as concerns about digital and video surveillance grow.

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