Fourth Amendment

  • By:David Bate

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution is found in the Bill of Rights, which is the section following the main body of the Constitution. Here are the exact words of this amendment:

“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.”

It’s important to understand the scope of this amendment because it is designed to protect certain rights you have as an American citizen. Specifically, it focuses on your right to keep certain aspects of your life private, unless a judge issues a warrant to search you or your belongings because there is reason to believe you have committed a crime and those items most likely will shed light on your involvement.

Not Just About Privacy

The Fourth Amendment is not just about privacy. We all relinquish aspects of our privacy every day. Whether one realizes it or not, protecting our identity and personal details while on the Internet is very challenging. In fact, most people regularly have their information recorded and stored when they visit various websites and even search engines. In addition, many online companies deposit “cookies” on your computer to track what you are buying.

Government Overreach

The writers of the Fourth Amendment knew that government has a way of forcing itself onto citizens and demanding to know their business. For example, if a government official considered a person to be a political opponent, he would use his governmental power to harass the citizen. Worse, the official could look for something that his target might have done illegally. This kind of power is threatening and sometimes deadly for the American people because it can result in incarceration, fines, or loss of personal/professional reputation.

Illegal Electronic Surveillance

In today’s world, there are instances where the Fourth Amendment is disregarded or interpreted in ways that are not in line with the plain wording of the Amendment. An example of this is the widespread indiscriminate electronic surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency. This affront to the Constitution is becoming more known worldwide and people everywhere are calling attention to it in an effort to get it under control.

The Effect of Terrorism on Privacy

Our country has changed a great deal since our Founding Fathers drew up and ratified the US Constitution. The American people are now faced with terrorism that threatens us from outside and inside our borders. This has resulted in a relaxation of the rules set down by the Fourth Amendment.

  • This does not mean that the American people cannot expect some measure of privacy in their person, papers and effects.
  • Simply because some parts of the government receive legislative waivers to intrude does not mean that all parts of government can disregard the Fourth Amendment.
  • The average American citizen still has every right to expect to be left alone, without being searched, unless a judge has issued a warrant for you, your home, your car or your place of business to be searched.
  • A judge should only issue a warrant for someone if there is reasonable probable cause that the person has been involved in a crime.

If you or your belongings have been searched in a way that you believe violated your Fourth Amendment rights, contact a criminal defense attorney DC relies on to discuss your case. If you have been charged for a crime as a result of an illegal search and seizure, you may have legal recourse. Knowing your rights is the first step in retaining them.


Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Firm of Frederick J. Brynn, P.C. for their insight into the fourth amendment.

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