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How far do your Fourth Amendment rights go?

Sept. 18, 2012

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

In the past year, cases from local courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court have focused on the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure as it relates to cell phone confiscation; GPS tracking by law enforcement; strip-searches of prisoners; and circumstances when warrantless searches are allowed.

The Fourth Amendment right has its roots in English history. In England, authorities had broad search-and-seizure powers to enforce customs law. In the American colonies, especially in busy ports, British officials’ use of this power to search buildings for whatever reason became a special grievance for colonists. The framers of the Bill of Rights intended to stop these types of searches and abuse of power with the Fourth Amendment, which says:

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.

However, the language in the amendment was broad and didn’t address issues such as how to define “unreasonable” and “probable cause.” It was left up to the courts to interpret the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Mapp v. Ohio: Expanding the exclusionary rule

In a 1914 ruling in Weeks v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court established the exclusionary rule, which said that evidence taken in an illegal search – meaning without a warrant – cannot be used in court. It was the court’s solution to preventing illegal searches. However, the Weeks decision affected only federal cases.

The exclusionary rule was extended to states in the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio. Dollree Mapp refused to allow Cleveland police to search her home for a bombing suspect because they did not have a warrant. She knew her rights. Eventually police got into the house to search for the suspect and wound up seizing pornographic comics that they found in a briefcase. Police charged Mapp with possession of obscene materials. She maintained they did not belong to her.

The thing is, the police did not have a warrant – officers entering the house waved a fake one at Mapp. Mapp was found guilty of the obscenity charge, but she appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The justices overturned her conviction, saying the exclusionary rule applied in state courts, too.

This was a significant ruling. As one scholar, University of Pennsylvania law professor Kermit Roosevelt, put it, “Fourth Amendment rights are worthless if the exclusionary rule is not available.”

The Fourth Amendment Today: Four cases

After the Mapp ruling and others that followed, some wondered if Fourth Amendment protections had gone too far. They kept law enforcement from abusing power, but did they obstruct justice? Here are how four recent cases looked at that question.

Kentucky v. King: Police pursuing a suspected drug dealer stopped outside an apartment, where they smelled marijuana. They knocked, announced themselves as police, heard a toilet flushing and suspected their suspect was destroying evidence. Turns out they were completely wrong – their suspect was not inside, and the occupant, Hollis King, was using the bathroom – but he was arrested without a warrant for possession of marijuana and cocaine. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that officers are allowed to act with urgency and enter without a warrant if they suspect evidence is being destroyed. However, they still have to demonstrate they had probable cause to do so – in other words, they can’t wander their beat, breaking down doors willy-nilly, they have to demonstrate a reason.

United States v. Jones: Law enforcement tracked Antoine Jones, a suspected drug dealer in Washington, D.C., for almost a month by attaching a GPS device to his Jeep. They did not have a warrant. Jones was sentenced to life in prison for drug-trafficking conspiracy. In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that GPS tracking is a form of search and requires a warrant.

United States v. Flores-Lopez: An Indiana man was arrested for dealing drugs, and law enforcement searched his cell phone without a warrant to track down his supplier. They argued that a warrant was unnecessary, since speed was essential. Data on the cell phone could be accessed remotely and deleted, and would not be able to be used as evidence. A federal appeals court sided with the police, saying that as a matter of urgency, police have the right to search a cell phone without a warrant.

Florence v. County of Burlington: A New Jersey man was arrested during a traffic stop because his records showed he had not paid a previous traffic fine. He had paid the fine – the record was in error – but Florence was detained in two jails, strip-searched in each and forced to take a delousing shower. He was “petrified” and “humiliated” and sued the county, saying it had violated his civil rights. The Supreme Court ruled against him in April 2012, saying that the corrections officials had the right to strip-search incoming prisoners if they determined it was necessary to emsure the safety and security of the prison.

What do you think?

How far should your Fourth Amendment rights go? Do you think procedures and restrictions placed on law enforcement are necessary? Do you think those procedures go too far, obstructing justice? How would you have ruled in each of these cases? Does suspected destruction of evidence mean police don’t need a warrant? Does GPS tracking equal a search? Should every prisoner be strip-searched when jailed? Join the discussion!
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Irvine, Texas
Jennifer Li
Budde/University High School
they should protect people's privacy

Budde/university high school
The fourth amendment rights should go as far as it needed to go in order to protect people’s privacy against unreasonable search, and i believe it is necessary and important. It does not go too far right now because if there is no probable cause than, speculation cannot help officers to solve a case. As for the cases, i agree on all the supreme court decisions that a warrant issued with a good cause is crucial. If a suspect is possibly destroying evidence and the condition is urgent, the police should be able to go in without warrant. GPS is like a search for someone’s location live so a warrant should be needed. And prison should be able to search a prisoner as thorough as they needed to prevent any security issue like a prison break.

Dana Point, CA.
What about the detection dogs and the Fourth Amendment? I personally feel like dogs should be probable cause to search and seize a person and/ their property.

I think the 4th amendment helps us(but it does not help us online) we still limit the government with what they can with this amendment! Thats a good thing!!!

Murrieta, CA
I think restrictions placed on law enforcement is needed because they need to have a warrant in order to search us. I think we deserve to have our own privacy, no matter what we do with our lives. Police can always assume someone looks suspicious, but I think they should get an actual warrant in order to search someone of anything. GPS tracking is also a way of search where someone has been.

Blue Springs/ Mississippi
Treadaway/ East Union
The 4th Amendment needs to not be changed but in fact be enforced moreover for the reasoning of it would save many lives. The police officers who come into homes and or establishments without warrants and or reasonable or substantial evidence are in great risk not only for the occupants but also for their own very lives. This could cause some controversy not only within the legislation but argument over the amendment itself.

Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
The issue this blog suggests is how to be best determine where a citizens fourth Amendment rights should be their strongest and where they should be limited.l personally believe that while our constitutional rights are not absolute. Where and how to determine when a warrant is necessary is quite simple. The articles mentions destruction of evidence, and that speed was of the essence. If the police have a suspicion that evidence is being destroyed, then a warrant is not necessary. Some bloggers argue that this will result in the police recklessly breaching privacy in the name of speed, however. This can be circumvented by challenge the evidence in court. In any other case where speed is not critical to the search. A warrant should be Necessary, especially in regards to a citizens home, where their right to privacy is even greater due to a Supreme Court ruling. I believe that this is the best way to adhere to the people's rights and the police's interests.

Fort Lawn, S.C.
Brittany B.
Our constitution guarantees the protection of our rights, as listed within them. The Fourth Amendment is NO exception. However, in a world and nation, whose government, is currently without boundaries, and without limits, as it has imposed upon the people an enormous governmental structure, which encompasses our judicial system, we cannot reasonably expect that will enforce what they are sworn to enforce, merely because a paper says so. The paper which specifies these rights, and guarantees, is only as good as the stand of a unified citizen population, which is willing and ready to stand and fight for that right, in droves. If we are to truly accept and be bound by, all of these laws, and court rulings, both on federal and state and local levels, then we as the people, should be making decisions regarding the laws passed which will, inevitably, govern or dictate the movements, actions and more of officers. It was intended by the founders, that we as the people, were to govern ourselves, through voting processes on laws which would impact the communities or nation, at large, based on their tier level standing. I believe it is time for the people to once again get this say-so in the laws which are instilled, and especially in those which will restrain or give more room to our law enforcement and courts. Thank you for the interesting question for thought.

Erich O.
Without the exclusionary rule in the 4th amendment we as citizens of the United States can't do anything about illegal search and seizures. Clearly from reading this article you can see that it happens all the time in our country but doesn't mean that we aren't guaranteed the 4th amendment as it says in the first 10 amendments. I think this problem needs to be resolved by hearing what the people think about these types of situations and allow their opinions to be heard so the government of the US can pass more appropriate laws for legal search and seizures on people’s properties. There should also be a certain limit for the police force to do a legal search and seizure on someone’s property because if the individual/s are suspected of illegal contents and there is enough evidence to show there is then a legal search and seizure should be commenced without a search warrant. Consequently if we give the government too much power then this amendment will be a thing of the past. That’s why we as the people should be guaranteed this amendment otherwise too much power equals a corrupt government.

Brooke S.
I think that this amendment should be strictly followed in our court rooms today. Without this amendment police could say anyone was a suspect and go knocking down doors with no real reason; there would be no boundaries. If they could search you because they suspected you’ve done something wrong that leaves a big gap open for interpretation. There is a fine line between allowing police to do their job while still protecting the rights of individuals. We must ensure that we do not start down the slippery slope of allowing the police too much power in the name of protection. This can lead to a loss of all of our rights. However, in the case “Kentucky v. King” the police were in pursuit of a known drug dealer and had a reasonable expectation that evidence was being destroyed within Mr. King’s home when they entered. They were not simply walking along and then decided to enter based on no probable cause. I agree with the court’s ruling in this case.

Porterville, CA
Of course procedures and restrictions placed on law enforcement are necessary. Some of those procedures do obstruct justice, even though they protect people's constitutional rights. In my personal opinion, even though it goes against the constitution, prisoners should be strip-searched if law-enforcement deems it necessary, and evidence is evidence, regardless of whether or not it was obtained in an illegal manner. Such evidence should be admitted and used to convict both the criminal and the officials that obtained said evidence in the illegal manner.

Sidney mt
Faulhabaer SHS School
I think that the "urgency" because of time, to search & seize without a warrant goes directly against the 4th Amendment since it specifically says that you need affirmation. There are also a lot of instances where

watertown / ma
mr.rimas/watertown high school
The Forth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from the violation of property. But police officers do not have the right to enter into someone's property without a warrant that allow them to do so. I think that it is totally unfair because it violates citizen's privacy.

The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect citizens from unruly and unnecessary searches. I believe restrictions are necessary as long as they do not interfere with the citizens' daily lives and justice isn't corrupted. Police shouldn't enter someone's house without a reasonable cause and they should have a warrant, unless the police have a viable and serious reason for going into someone's house without a warrant. GPS tracking isn't exactly good to use, since it may interfere with that person's daily activities. A person shouldn't be strip-searched unless they are dangerous to everyone else around them. I'm okay with all the case rulings except the first one. They arrested the wrong person and acted on mere suspicion, not on actual evidence.

Watertown, MA
Rimas/Watertown High
Fourth amendment rights should serve mainly to protect suspects but that does not mean that they can obstruct justice. I think that the first and second rulings are completely just. However, I feel that the third ruling was wrong, a cell phone search is still a search and needs a warrant to be done. Although this may seems similar to the first ruling the police don't actually know if the evidence is being destroyed therefore the police can't have the urgency with cell phones that they do in a situation such as the one in the first ruling. Prisoners could be strip-searched, but only if they are deemed a threat with good reason, since safety in prisons is very important.

Watertown, Massachusetts
Mr. Rimas
I think all of the modern rulings are unjust. The rights of the people are far more important than law enforcement taking drugs away from people. No one would sacrifice their life in defense of police taking drugs away from people, but people do sacrifice their lives in defense of the rights of the people, like free speech. Police should have to get a warrant. I'd rather live in a society where drug dealers get away with things and police don't abuse their power.

Watertown Massachusetts
Remis, Watertown High School
While sometimes a criminal may escape persecution, the Fourth Amendment should be strictly followed. Any evidence found without a warrant, unless under circumstances in which the process of obtaining a warrant would have allowed time for an individual to be harmed, should be disregarded. I would have ruled against the police in all cases except Florence v. County of Burlington. I believe that prisons, in order to ensure the safety of guards and other prisoners, must be allowed to strip search incoming prisoners for weapons, drugs, and other illicit tools or substances.

The federal government should not be allowed to confiscate cell phones of track people by GPS unless they have a real reason to do so. If there is a crime being potentially committed and this is a way to catch a criminal, then I think it is within the law to take action.

Watertown, MA
I think the 4th amendment should no longer apply to convicts, but there should be strict rights for law abiding citizens regarding unlawful search and seizure because I don't want people looking through my stuff. Ever. GPS tracking is okay in case I ever get kidnapped and need to be found as long as my parents aren't casually stalking me to see when I'm lying about my whereabouts.

Irving, TX
The Fourth Amendment should be fair to both the police and suspects. Restrictions are necessary, as long as justice isn't obstructed. There are exceptions for the police to search without warrants, but the police can't just go up to someone and arrest him or her. Mere suspecting of destroyed evidence isn't really an excuse for a warrant-less search, in my opinion, unless it's for a good reason. GPS tracking is a search but an unjust one. Unless the prisoner is deemed dangerous to others, he or she should NOT be strip-searched. I agree with all of the case rulings except the first one. The police arrested the wrong person.

Lily S.
The fourth amendment guards us against unreasonable searches and seizures. It specifically states that law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant to do so. I believe they need some restrictions though because whether they realize it or not,they sometimes violate our rights. It isn't right to make an assumption about someone. Especially when they search you involuntarily because they assume you've got something on you,but don't end up finding what they were looking for in the first place,so they find something else to blame you for. Just like in the Mapp v. Ohio case. It also isn't right to just bust in to someone's home and humiliate them without a probable cause. They have to demonstrate a reason. GPS is worse because you don't even know when law enforcement is tracking you!That's practically like stalking,especially if they don't have a warrant.They're going too far.

Bradley Nimitz
Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Its purpose is to help the people and not hurt them. But of course unless its in a circumstance that is similar to the ones listed in the article. I think that the officials have right to search a person if he/she is thought to be harmful to the people around him/her. However, i would rather want a police to arrest me with a warrant because in America, you have that right. No one can just come up to you and arrest you.

Concord, NC
I see a lot of people saying prisoners should be strip searched. But what you all seem to forget is that we live in an era of victimless crime laws. That means if your wife or daughter is arrested at a traffic stop, she could be taken to jail, strip searched, cavity searched, held for 48 hours, and then released without being charged for a crime. This is sexual assault, regardless of the intent, because it feels like sexual assault to the person wrongfully arrested. Strip searches in prison for convicted felons is one thing, but lets not extend that to the local police without oversight. Police can already lie to you, intimidate you, physically harm you and the burden of proof is on you to show they acted wrongfully, because laws are in place that erroneously try to PREVENT crime (touching an officer is assault, but beating you is not), instead of enforce laws of justice while protecting the constitution.

Katie D
It think that our Fourth Amendment is gone. I don't think it should even be necessary to assume that we need our "privacy." The way society is now EVERYTHING goes on our Facebook or Twitter. We don't leave anything private publicly, but whenever someone tries to do something about it, that's when we now have a problem. I don't know how I would have ruled in the cases, because I don't know all of the back story behind them all. Police should have to have a warrant if people want it, but today people are probably stupid enough to just let the police in. GPS tracking is a search and it's kind of messed up anyway. Yes, prisoners should be strip-searched to make sure they're safe.

Ashley C
The Fourth Amendment is here to protect our privacy. They are here to prevent the police and law enforcement from going past their boundaries. I believe that our Fourth Amendment rights should protect us , but in cases where they are being violated to help others is a different story. In Kentucky vs. King and Florence vs. County of Burlington , i believe that their 4th Amendment rights were trampled on and i agree with the Defendants. In United States vs. Jones and United States vs. Flores-Lopez, I agree with the United States. It honestly depends on the Court Case.

Hector S.
The Fourth Amendment prevents the rights of the people to be trampled on by law enforcement. With changing times, our Fourth Amendment rights should not extend passed that of citizens back when the Constitution was ratified. The restrictions placed on law enforcement are necessary but there are special cases where I believe they shouldn't apply. In the Kentucky v King case, I would have sided with King. The police were incorrect with their assumption and should pay the price. In the United States v Jones case and United States v Flores-Lopez case, I would have sided against The United States because all the U.S needed was a warrant to conduct the search where I don't believe that acquiring a warrant is time consuming. I believe that using GPA does equal a search. I don't think that every prisoner should be strip-seached, depending on the reason that they are convicted will determine whether they be searched.

The fourth amendments should protect our privacy. Nothing should be allowed to be searched or touched without a warrant. No homes should be broken into without a good reason to do so. It may seem necessary to barge into a place where it seems evidence might be getting destroyed, but NO warrant; no enter. With this said, law enforcements need to know how far to go, and where to draw the line. It is a good thing that procedures are taken because if not, there would be more conflict based on how privacy is being invaded. With all these cases, I would have ruled the Mapp v. Ohio the same way because what they had gone in for was totally different than what they wound up with in the end. Now on Kentucky v King, I would have to say it was reasonable to have gone in, due to the fact that they thought that evidence was being destroyed. The rest of the cases, I agree with the way they were handled, but I don't like the idea of a tracking device being used, I think that can be considered stalking, but that's just me. Also, when it comes to prisoners being stripped searched, I agree that this procedure should still be carried out because it just makes things a little more safe than what they could end up being.

jennifer T
I believe that the law is successful just as it is unjust with the various intrepetations that can be infered from the 4th amendment. In other words i don't think that there is any other way to word the amendment. In the case that it is changed more criminals would walk as search and seizure would be more difficult to cary out. The writers left it like it is for the best changing it would bring more chaos.

Vanessa C.
I think that the fourth amendment and the right restriction should be neede because there are people that take advantage over their right when they have done something bad. Sometimes the procedures do go too far but at the end in may help one of the parties. Something that I would do would be to get all the evidence I can get to solve and find the right person that should be put on jail or be fined. When it comes to have a warrant I would say that is all depending in the degree of the case for example murder, accident,fraud etc. And by those categories it will depend if they should get a warrant or not but the majority of the cases will need a warrant to get to the point of the case. GPS is not a equal search because that person doesn't know if they are being search. I would say that they should do a strip search to those that are new to that prison to check if they haven't brought any weapons is better to prevent a person to get killed or hurt.

Linda G
My Fourth amendment rights should go as far as to protect me and everyone else. If the evidence obtained could harm other people, then it should be used so it wouldn't be able to hurt anyone. I believe a GPS tracking device does equal a search and a break in privacy. It is basically knowing where the person is at all times without the person knowing it. The 4th Amendment should work to the benefit of the people.

Kenia R
Bradley/ Nimitz
I believe that the 4th amendment rights should go far enough because sometimes its necessary to search without a warrant if they believe that someone is hiding something. But I think that what they are searching for should be specific and they should not look for anything else that the warrant didnt say or try to make up things to incriminate people. GPS tracking is a search and it is necessary to strip search prisoners to a certain extent to ensure everybody’s safety.

I believe that there should be restrictions on law enforcement. Even if the suspect may seem guilty, going in without a proper warrant is a violations of our Fourth Amendment rights. By going in without a warrant one undermines the entire Constitution itself. I also think that GPS tracking is also a violation. The person should at least be aware of the fact that they are being tracked, and they should have an option to refuse the tracking device as well. As for prisoners, I think that they should be strip-searched, but not to a drastic point.

My fourth amendment right should go as far a protecting me. They shouldn't be able to have me humiliated or scared in anyway. Restrictions and procedures should be placed on law enforcement because many police officers may take things over board and search people when it is unnecessary. To be able to have ruled the men and woman in these cases guilty I would have asked for good evidence and made sure that these searches weren't violating the fourth amendment. Suspected destruction of evidence shouldn't need a warrant because if no evidence was being destroy the person shouldn't be nervous or mad that their house was searched. GPS does equal as a search because it tells each place the person has gone. I don't think every prisoner should be strip-searched, unless it was absolutely necessary and it should depend on why they are in jail. Prisoners are human too and shouldn't be felt violated if unnecessary.

The fourth amendment rights go far enough because the procedures and restrictions placed on law enforcement are necessary. They don’t obstruct justice but rather keep it in check to make sure everything is done fairly and correctly. In the case of Kentucky vs. King my ruling would have gone with king. I would have to rule for Jones in the case against he United sates and for the county of Burlington in the case against Florence. Suspected destruction of evidence does not mean no warrant is needed unless it is of a certain level of severity. GPS tracking is a search and it is necessary to strip every prisoner to ensure safety.

Sandra C.
I think restrictions are needed to protect people from being violated of their rights. In Kentucky v. King, I would have ruled in favor of King because the police acted on assumption and not real facts. Regardless of the urgency, I think that police officers need to follow the law just like everyone else. They can't expect people to follow the law if they can't be the example. GPS tracking is a search since they are searching a person's whereabouts. Every prisoner should be strip-searched, but to a certain extent. Just because they are being strip-searched doesn't mean they have to be humiliated.

Mayra Z
I believe the fourth amendment rights should have a limit because people who actually commit crimes take advantage of the right they have. I do think some restrictions on the law enforcement would help because many people who are guilty are proved not guilty just because police did not follow the 4th amendment , but also the people who aren't guilty are proven guilty because the police automatically made assumptions of what they heard or saw or found.I would have asked for strong evidence before accusing because even if they did break the amendment, I would have wanted a good reason for not following it if I was ruling these cases.I believe that in every case there has to be a warrant because they need to understand sooner or later they will find the evidence to suspect even if they do try to get rid of the evidence.I don't really think GPS systems mean a search because they're making sure that person is not where the committed crimes were taken place in or where they can find a drug source for example.I really do believe there has to be a limit to strip searching in the jail because it may violate their privacy.

Irving, TX
The Fourth Amendment should definitley have restrictions on law enforcement's because many times the law is too consentrated on their goal that they forget they are violating our rights. Law enforcement act on caution every day and for them to be safe they have to take drastic measures, even though we don't agree with them. Yes some are way over the top that shouldn't be made but that's up to the courts. For Kentucky v. King, i think its pretty dumb that the supreme court said that police can enter a home without a warrant and have to prove a reason even thought the suspect might be innocent. For Florence v. Country of Burlington, i think that the law enforcement went to over board with the stripping down search. If its just a traffic error it shouldn't be enough to strip him down. No, the police shouldn't act on assumption. No, GPS tracking does not equal a warrant because law enforcement has to act in secret. No, not every prisoner should be stripped searched but they should be searched. Only those who assume to be a treat should be stripped searched.

Cindy M
Bradley/ Nimitz
Having protection of unreasonable searches or seizures is a very broad statement. Over the years the government has done things that can contradict this amendment but at the same time it is not that specific making it okay. Things like strip-searches of prisoners sounds wrong of course, but they can put it in a way making it legal. For instance by saying since they are in prison they are under the law and having strip-searches is something they have every once in a while. They government is not perfect. There are tons of things that are not right but that’s just how it is.

Irving Texas
Frankie R
Bradley Nimitz
The fourth amendment is protection for Americans from any unfair situations. I think restrictions are needed because people will find loop holes and try to use them to their advantage. The only case I would consider not guilty is Kentucky V. king, but even then I'm not completely sure. No, the police can't act on assumptions. They need proof in some shape or form. No, GPS searching is a violation of someone's privacy in my opinion. Mainly because they don't know they're being tracked. Yes new prisoners should be strip-searched. You never know if they're bringing something in or not, and I'd rather be safe then sorry.

Irving, Tx
The 4th Amendment clearly states that a seach warrant has to be present if the authorities want to search through your belongings. I really don't understand why this is an issue. I also think GPS is worse than an illegal search. At leaast with a search, you are aware of the situation and what is going on. With GPS, you have no idea who's watching you or paying attention to every move you make.

i think that the rulings stated in this artical are just. whatever happens because of the rulings happens, but they are carrect. if evidence could be destroied momentairly, then the police have the right to stop that by taking away the cell phone or whatever else it may be,

Irving/ TX
Amber P
Bradley/ Nimitz
The fourth amendment is established for our protection. There’s a difference between being tortured and beat, than getting evidence from your house, for a crime you may have done, without a warrant. Procedures and restrictions are necessary for anyone who has power and authority. Cases: Kentucky V. king- not guilty, United states v. Jones- guilty, United states v. Flores-Lopez- guilty, and Florence v. county of Burlington- guilty. Yes, what has to be done needs to be done, suspected destruction of evidence needs to be acted fast to handle. No I don't think GPS tracking equals a search. Every prisoner should be stripped searched, so they won't cause harm to any one.

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