The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Protection Against Illegal Search & Seizure

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"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."

In 2010, the Fourth Amendment became the subject of considerable debate, after Arizona passed legislation giving local police agencies the power to enforce existing immigration laws.

The controversy centered around a particular aspect of the new law that dealt with search and seizure; in this case, a search for immigration papers and the seizure of one's person should such papers fail to be provided to law enforcement. Some of the resistance to the law revolved around racial profiling and whether Hispanics would be unfairly targeted.

Liberals (especially those who hadn't read the document) seemed bent on persuading the American public that the law allowed police officers to approach and demand immigration papers or proof of citizenship for no good reason at all, when in fact, Part B of Sec. 2 of the legislation begins, "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency ...," which essentially means that the person to be questioned must have given police another reason to detain them before the police officer can ask about immigration status.

While conservatives hold every Article of the Bill of Rights sacred, the Fourth Amendment is of particular worthiness because it deals specifically with personal freedom.

It outlines clear and precise language for when federal or state governments may encroach upon an American's person or property and what specific conditions must be met in order for detainment or seizure. For conservatives, the well-articulated process by which the government must obtain warrants and execute an arrest are what separates America from countries all over the world.

The genius of Article IV is that it prohibits agents of the local, state or federal government from the kind of detentions and secret executions that have plagued countries in the past. While it is true that such activities have occurred in some of the darker periods of American history, the difference is that the authorities responsible were not above the law, as they often are in other countries. In cases where the offending government agents have been caught transgressing the Fourth Amendment, they've been charged, prosecuted and punished as criminals.

Although not expressly written in the Fourth Amendment, the so-called "exclusionary rule," which allows judges to toss out evidence procured through an illegal search or seizure is a natural derivative of it, the exception, of course, being the case of grand juries. Conservatives have expressed concern about both the rule and its exception, however. Many contend that the exclusionary rule is often applied in too narrow a fashion, yet complain that the grand jury system often bastardizes the Fourth Amendment and opens the door for it to be abused.

The Fourth Amendment, however, is about the security of American citizens in their homes and on their persons.

When it comes to controversies like the one over the 2010 law in Arizona, conservatives tend to believe that the security of the nation's citizens takes precedence over the security of illegal immigrants. This means that if, for some legal reason, the federal government has a reason to ask about the legality of someone's immigration status, such a request cannot be considered "unreasonable," especially if the lawful citizens and legal immigrants of the community within which the request is made are being terrorized by those who are not permitted to be there.

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Your Citation
Hawkins, Marcus. "The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2016, Hawkins, Marcus. (2016, January 24). The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Retrieved from Hawkins, Marcus. "The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 16, 2017).