The Fourth Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights, which is a section of the American constitution. It states that people and their property need to be safe and should not be subjected to unfair search and seizure. In addition, it states that a search warrant should be obtained from the appropriate authority, and should specify the place to be searched and the items or persons to be seized if necessary (Clancy, 2008, p.35). Its main aim is to prevent any unfair search of people’s homes and their property without search warrants form appropriate authorities. The Fourth Amendment requires any government official to obtain a warrant from the appropriate authority in order for them to search the home or private property of any person (Clancy, 2008, p.3). A judge only issues a search warrant if a government officer requesting for the warrant has evidence that links the home or property of a certain person with a certain crime. In order for a search warrant to comply with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, it should specify the things that an officer is looking for and the places that he is authorized to search (Clancy, 2008, p.36).
The Fourth Amendment originated from the English legal system. In 1604, Sir Edward Coke, the judge who determined the Semayne’s case, stated that the house of each person is a palace and a stronghold that serves to protect and offer him or her rest (Clancy, 2008, p.42). This case recognized that the king did not have authority to encroach or raid his subjects’ homes. Instead, government officials were expected to obtain search warrants that allowed them to conduct searches under the condition that they were legal. The second case involved John Entick who was accused of directly attacking the king and his government policies. The king sent Nathan Carrington to Entick’s house to conduct a search for materials that he claimed were against his governance style. In the Entick v. Carrington case that resulted from the search, the judge ruled in favor of Entick. The presiding judge, Charles Pratt, ruled that the search was unlawful because it authorized the seizure of all papers but Carrington seized only those that were against the king (Clancy, 2008, p.48). In addition, the warrant lacked solid reasons that justified its authority. These two cases formed a basis for the establishment of the Fourth amendment.
The fourth amendment has two main parts. The first one prohibits unfair search of anyone’s home or private property and the second one requires the evidence of a search warrant from an appropriate authority in order for a search to be lawful (Mclnnis, 2010, p.62). In colonial America, the sole purpose of law was to enforce the policies of the English colonialists on revenue collection. The warrants issued at the time were only general warrants. Until the 1760’s, the colonists had the power to search any home or private property as they pleased. The rising cases of smuggling prompted the king to use “Writs of Assistance” to search the homes of people suspected to be smugglers (Mclnnis, 2010, p.64). The King’s officials used the general warrants to enter and search any home without notice. They interrogated people and seized goods as they pleased. Widespread home searches and seizure of goods became an epidemic. In protest, the legislature of Massachusetts passed a law that outlawed the use of general warrants (Mclnnis, 2010, p.65). After the death of George II in 1760, Jon Otis, Advocate General of the Admiralty Court, declined to defend the Writs of Assistance and resigned from his position. His efforts to fight against the Writs of Assistance were the motivation behind the American Revolution (Mclnnis, 2010, p.68). When the constitution was drafted, the Fourth amendment was included in the bill of rights to protect the people from unfair searches and seizure of their goods that they were prevalent during the colonial times.
Clancy, T. (2008). The Fourth Amendment: Its History and Interpretation. New York: Carolina Academic Press.
Mclnnis, T. (2010). The Evolution of the Fourth Amendment. New York: Lexington Books.