Law Essay Sample: Limitations of the Fourth Amendment

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which was adopted in 1792, holds the provision that protects American citizens from unwarranted searches by the law enforcement agencies. According to the amendment, government searches and seizures can only be conducted on the issuance of a judicial warrant, sanctioned by probable cause and supported by an oath. The warrant must vividly describe the place to be searched and the item or people to be seized. The application of the Fourth Amendment has been subject to interpretation, severally, by the judiciary. This essay introduces the Fourth Amendment and its key limitations, and utilizes specific court cases to demonstrate how court rulings may alter the provision of an amendment.

Under the Fourth Amendment, any seizure or arrest should be limited to the information provided by the issuing officer to the court. The issuing office has to swear by the information he supplies in a court to receive a warrant. The law deals with three major issues pertaining the Fourth Amendment; the government activities defined by search and seizure,' what constitutes probable cause and how to address violations of the amendment. In early cases, the courts limited the amendment to law enforcement agencies' intrusion into private property. However, after 1967's Katz v. the United States case in 1967, the Supreme Court extended the provisions of the amendment to cover one's privacy and their physical location. Rom the ruling the court interpreted the Fourth Amendment as individual's protection against any search whether it is physical or not. Therefore, to conduct searches on private property or even in a person's office, it is mandatory for the law enforcement agencies to have a search warrant. However, there are several exceptions. Searching motor vehicles, border searches, evidence in plain sight and consent searches do not require a warrant to be executed. These exceptions can act as a loophole and can be abused by the government. For example, a simple traffic violation may be used as a probable cause to conduct automobile searches without a warrant. To avoid these scenarios, a proper Supreme Court interpretation of the probable cause is required. This interpretation will ensure that the exception is not used by the law enforcement agencies to harass Americans.

To enforce the Fourth Amendment, the exclusionary rule is used. According to the rule, any evidence gathered in illegal searches cannot be admissible in criminal trials. This aims to remove any reward gained by the disregard of the amendment. The Supreme Court has also ruled that the exclusionary rule does not apply in the following cases; evidence illegally seized by a nongovernmental individual, evidence collected by customs officials, tax hearings, deportation hearings and evidence seized by parole officers.

The 1925 Supreme Court ruling on Carroll v. the United States made warrantless motor vehicles searches legal if there was probable cause present (Brody etal. 191). This case was significant as it set standards for police work that are utilized even today. The ruling is vital for day-to-day police work and has played a vital role in police work and even in court cases.

George Carroll and John Kiro were arrested for transporting alcohol which was a violation of the Volstead Act (Brody et al. 191). They were driving to Detroit from Grand Rapids on a route that was notorious for transportation of illegal liquor. Carroll had previous encounters with the police along the route who suspected he was smuggling liquor to Detroit. On this fateful day, the officers chased Carroll's car, stopped them and then thoroughly searched the car to find 68 bottles of gin and whiskey. Carroll and Kiro were arrested, tried and convicted. Carroll appealed the case by saying that his arrest and seizure of evidence was illegal and unlawful and thus the seized evidence should not be admissible in the court. The Supreme Court had to rule whether the warrantless search and seizure of the evidence from Carroll's car was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. On a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless search of Carroll's car was constitutional as there was probable cause that the vehicle contained contraband (Brody et al. 191).

The presence of the probable cause was the determinant of the case. The prosecutor proved that there was probable cause that Carroll was transporting contrabands. The court observed that there is a huge difference in searching for contrabands in vehicles and buildings as vehicles can quickly move out of a jurisdiction before the necessary warrant has been obtained. According to the ruling, a warrantless search is lawful if a qualified law enforcer has determined that there is probable cause that a crime is being committed. However, the ruling encouraged a warrant to be obtained if it was reasonably obtainable. It was also the opinion of the court that people using the highway should be allowed free passage without interruption or arbitrary searches unless there is a proximate cause.

The case set new standards for the Fourth Amendment as it added a new limitation. This limitation may be used by the federal government to harass individuals by subjecting them to arbitrary searches since the probable cause, in this case, is the opinion of the state officials. People who have parked their cars can be victims of this harassment yet they are not a threat to the rule of law.

Despite all these limitations, the Fourth Amendment plays a vital role in the protection of the rights of Americans. It is an essential avenue for protection against state harassment as it prevents law enforcement agencies from searching and seizure of people's property without proper authorization of the court.


Work Cited

Brody, David C. et al. Criminal procedure and the Supreme Court: A Guide to the major decisions on Search and Seizure, Privacy and Individual Rights. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. EBSCOhost, Print.


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