Fourth Amendment

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Why is the 4th Amendment important and relevant to the criminal justice system?

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The Bill of Rights exists to safeguard the rights of the people against potential abuses of power by government. The Fourth Amendment ensures that government authorities cannot conduct searches of private property without first attaining a warrant. It protects the right to privacy.

These kinds of measures are important precisely...

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The Bill of Rights exists to safeguard the rights of the people against potential abuses of power by government. The Fourth Amendment ensures that government authorities cannot conduct searches of private property without first attaining a warrant. It protects the right to privacy.

These kinds of measures are important precisely because of the extraordinary power differential that exists between private citizens and government. Governments inevitably possess a monopoly of force, which they ideally use to ensure law and order, as well as the proper functioning of a society. However, this monopoly of force can also become dangerous to a democratic society if it is turned toward oppressive ends. In crafting the Bill of Rights, with its various protections, the Framers understood the dangers that a government can potentially pose toward its own citizenry. They created these measures to protect against those dangers.

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The Bill of Rights, including the Fourth Amendment, was drawn up to alleviate the concerns of those delegates to the Constitutional Convention worried that the proposed Constitution would give too much power to the federal government. The American colonists had only recently fought a war against what they saw as British tyranny. The last thing they wanted to see was the re-establishment of such tyranny on American soil. The states, in particular, were genuinely worried that the Constitution as it originally stood would impinge upon their sovereignty. Moreover, they feared that an over-mighty federal government would infringe the individual liberties for which Americans had fought so long and hard.

The Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures has obvious relevance to the criminal justice system. In order to bring charges against individuals it will often be necessary to conduct searches of both property and person. The Fourth Amendment is there to make sure that, when such searches do take place, they are carried out in accordance with appropriate legal safeguards, such as the issuing of a warrant by a judge. This is an expression of one of the fundamental principles of American public life, that the government is a government of laws, not men. It is the law, and not the personal whims of individuals, that should determine how law enforcement officials conduct their work.

A notable anomaly of the Fourth Amendment was that it only applied to federal, not state authorities. As such, individuals were deprived of protection against unreasonable search and seizure by state officials. It was only in the middle of the 20th century that the Warren Court, in cases such as Mapp v Ohio (1961), extended Fourth Amendment rights to cover actions by the states.

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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.

The 4th Amendment is important to the criminal justice system because it sets out many of the most important rules that law enforcement must observe as it tries to maintain order in our society.

The 4th Amendment protects the rights of the people against the police and other government entities.  It prevents them from searching our homes or our persons without warrants.  It specifies that the police will need probable cause to get a warrant and that they can only look for the things specified in the warrants.

This affects the criminal justice system because it forces the police to work harder to get the proof they need to convict criminals.  They are not simply free to stop and search anyone whom they suspect of crimes.  They are not free to search our homes just because they think they might possibly find something incriminating.  This makes the job of the police harder, but it also protects us and our rights.  This is why it is important and relevant.

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