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The 4th Amendment and Search and Seizure Laws

The foundation of the United States Constitution and the 4th Amendment is to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. citizens are given the right to security of their persons, papers, houses and effects against any unreasonable searches. The key term for this amendment is probable cause, which must be the basis for a warrant that allows for a search and seizure.

The 4th Amendment and the reach of the government under “reasonable search and seizure” has been popular in the news media as of late with several examples that push the line on searches and seizures and raise important questions about the meaning of this amendment for contemporary life. One such example is the use of drones. Although these have primarily been discussed through their destructive capabilities, drones can also be used for multiple purposes that may fall into a grey area. Current Supreme Court decisions on the use of airplanes for air searches indicate that the Court may find that drones are capable of performing a search function.

As recently as March 26th, the Supreme Court made statements regarding the 4th amendment, releasing a 5-4 decision that using drug sniffing dogs outside a home by the police was an act requiring a warrant. This was actually the court’s second time taking a stance on the issue of drug sniffing dogs this very term, with another Florida case regarding the right of dogs to sniff outside a vehicle. Although, in the second case, the court found that the drug dog sniff complied with existing law concerning drug dog sniffs.

Last term, the Supreme Court also took a stand on a case whether GPS tracking was used to identify a vehicle’s location was legal. Although the Supreme Court held the opinion that traveling on a public road overruled the expectation of privacy, the Court upheld that the use of the GPS tracking device was in itself a “search”, and referred to the action as “physically intruding on constitutionally protected areas”. Therefore, police may need to obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle.

In the Supreme Court decisions, it has come down to whether probable cause was what gave police officers the right for search and seizure. Arguments supporting the rights of those in homes and vehicles to protection from unwarranted searches or seizures have pointed out that the use of particular strategies, such as drug-sniffing dogs or GPS devices, overstep the bounds of reason for probable cause.


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