The Fourth Amendment Protects Us
The ten amendments to the Constitution are collectively known as the Bill of Rights. The fourth of those amendments reads in part:
“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.”
This, as with all of the rights granted to the people of the United States, may require you to exercise the rights to protect them rather than assuming they’ll be granted to you. Here’s how to do just that when it comes to S&S.
Lawyer Up First
When dealing with law enforcement, in most instances, the first phrase out of anyone’s mouth should be “I want a lawyer!” It may seem paranoid but remember, the police are allowed to mislead someone they might consider a suspect.
In a 1977 ruling, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) allowed a conviction to stand, even though the suspect was not given his Miranda warning and was falsely told by police that his fingerprint was found at the scene. In 1969, SCOTUS ruled that a defendant’s statement was admissible even though it was obtained under false pretenses.
It’s imperative, therefore, to invoke the right to counsel. If investigators can lead someone down the garden path with deceit, having an advisor versed in the law is vital.
More Ways To Exercise Fourth Amendment Rights
- Immediately upon answering the door and finding police, occupants of the home should ask if they have a warrant before allowing the police to enter the home. If they do not have the proper paperwork, the individual has the absolute right to refuse them entry.
If the officers do have a warrant, signed by a judge, then they do have the right to enter. However, reading the warrant is vital since it will specify where they may search and what they may seize. If police try to enter a room or area not spelled out in the warrant, one can deny them the opportunity. Also, while they are searching would be a good time to stay quiet and get that attorney.
- While drivers must obey the signal pull over when faced with a sobriety checkpoint, they don’t necessarily have to submit to a breathalyzer test or searches of themselves or their vehicles. In fact, in recent years a trend has started where people sit in their cars with the window rolled up and hold up paperwork that includes:
- Driver’s license
- Vehicle registration
- A statement claiming the right to remain silent, to have a lawyer present, and which refuses any searches
While this remains largely untested in the courts, it has seen success in practice. One supposition is that prosecutors are wary of pursuing the issue out of fear that a court would scuttle the whole system. Some claim this is an effort to “protect drunk drivers.” But we feel that argument is bogus; the idea is that citizens are protecting themselves from further encroachment on their rights.
The system of American jurisprudence has been a balancing act between individual rights and legitimate state interests from day one. The thing to remember is that once a constitutionally-given right is abandoned, it is exceedingly difficult to reclaim. So know, protect, and use your rights — every time.