Rights under the Fourth Amendment

The US Constitution also grants certain rights to the accused who is under investigation for a criminal offense.  One of these rights is the Fourth Amendment, to wit:

“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.” (Fourth Amendment)

The Fourth Amendment constitutes a limitation on the powers of the state.  It affirms the sanctity of a person’s house as a hallmark of all free societies.  Under the Fourth Amendment, a person’s house is protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.  There is a search when there is “an exploration or examination of an individual’s house, premises, or person in order to discover things that may be used by the government for evidence in a criminal prosecution” (Criminal Procedure: Law & Practice, 2004, p.194).  A search is constitutional when it is done in compliance with the Fourth Amendment and relevant case laws.  Logically, a search is unconstitutional if it was done in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As a rule before any search is made upon any person’s property, his person, house, documents and other personal things, a search warrant must first be secured otherwise the search becomes unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional.  Based on existing jurisprudence, this right has been extended to places other than a person’s home.  In US v. Chadwick, 433 US 1, the Supreme Court explained that the protection of the Fourth Amendment extended not only within a person’s home but even outside it.  The protection extends to any place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy even if the place is in a public area (Katz v. US, 389 US 347). Any evidence obtained without a valid search warrant will render the evidence inadmissible in court under the Exclusionary Rule.

Under the Fourth Amendment, the requirements before a search warrant can be issued are: a) probable case; b) determination of the probable cause personally by the judge; c) after examination under Oath of Affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce and d) Particularity of the description of the person to be arrested or the thing to be searched.

Probable cause is defined as the evidence that is sufficient to induce a cautious man to believe that a crime has been committed and that the suspect is probably guilty thereof.  The probable cause is to be determined by the judge himself upon the examination of all evidence and affidavits presented before the judge.  These affidavits must be under oath to ensure that the witnesses and the complainants are telling the truth.

The request for a search warrant must identify the place to be searched with particularity so as to leave no room for discretion on the part of the arresting officer in deciding which place will be searched.  Thus if the search warrant says that the search will be conducted inside Unit 6A of Jones Apartment then the search must be conducted in the exact place and no other.  Any evidence that will be obtained in a search made other than Unit 6A is inadmissible in evidence.  Thus, if any of these requisites are lacking the accused may argue that the search was unreasonable and the evidence obtained may be considered illegal and suppressed in court.

In addition to the express provision of the Fourth Amendment, jurisprudence also requires that the search warrant should be served during daytime.  However, if the affidavits are positive that the property is on the person or place to be searched then the search warrant may include an instruction that it could be served at any time.  Unlike a warrant of arrest, however, a search warrant must be executed and served within a specific number of days.

Otherwise, the search warrant may expire and the law enforcement officers must file another application with the court for the issuance of another warrant.  The law enforcement officer serving and executing the warrant is enjoined to give a copy of the warrant and a receipt of any property seized from the premises either to the person from whom the property is taken or to leave a copy of the receipt of the same.  The purpose of the inventory of the property taken is to ensure that all properties taken are well accounted for.

In case evidence is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment or the accused was arrested not in compliance with the Fourth Amendment, he may be relieved from criminal liability by using the concept of Exclusionary Rule.  It serves to implement the safeguards enunciated under the Fourth Amendment.  If law enforcement officers are able to obtain evidence against the accused during a search or as an incident of an arrest, it does not necessarily follow that the same will be admissible as evidence in court.  If any of the requirements under the Fourth Amendment was not complied with then the evidence will not be admissible in court.

The Exclusionary Rule is not a constitutional right but it is a rule of evidence.  It prohibits the admission in court of any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  It serves to give flesh and blood to the Fourth Amendment by giving the courts the authority to render inadmissible any evidence that is illegally obtained.