The Fourth Amendment has always been deemed one of the most essential sources of constitutional rights of the U.S. citizens that has protected them against illegal and unjustified interference of the government with their privacy. This amendment has also been continuously subject to heated debates and constant argues over its proper interpretation both from the perspective of the Founding Fathers intention and with account for contemporary circumstances.
Traditionally, the US Supreme Court has been the judicial body of the highest instance with the authorities to decide how the Fourth Amendment is to be interpreted by courts of all levels, law enforcement bodies, and governmental agencies, as well as to set precedents to be complied with when making judgments concerning relevant cases. Besides, the Fourth Amendment is now a topical issue with respect to its application to instances involving the use of modern technologies.
Nonetheless, the amendment has always been an issue widely discussed both by professionals and the general public, in particular with respect to the question whether it is too beneficial towards criminals and whether exclusion rules, relating to the Fourth Amendment, should be abolished nowadays. These two questions seem to be contradictory to some extent, yet they worry the public and legal scholars since their resolution would have serious consequences for the judicial system and the law enforcement system.
There is also a debate on whether the Fourth Amendment benefits criminals even more than the general public that should be the primary subject of governmental and constitutional protection. Thus, the current paper is aimed at providing a brief overview of the Fourth Amendment and its interpretation, attempting to answer a vital question of whether it really benefits criminals as significantly as it is supposed by some sceptics. The problem is those of such an opinion are in favor of limiting its scope and related rules that are currently in force and are upheld by courts in the majority of criminal cases.
Text of the Fourth Amendment and Its Interpretation
The Fourth Amendment is set forth in the US Constitution as an integral part of the Bill of Rights as follows:
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. (Legal Information Institute, n.d.)
Originally, the Fourth Amendment was drafted by James Madison as follows:
The right of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized. (ONeill, 2011)
Anti-federalists deemed such text of the amendment unsatisfactory and, being headed by Rep. Elbridge Gerry, they demanded to alter it (ONeill, 2011). The demand was justified by the supposition that the declaratory provision was not good enough and had to be more forceful through substitution of the conjunction or with and. The original purpose of the amendment was to suppress the US Congresss authority to issue general warrants that were quite popular at the time and violated peoples privacy. Nowadays, it is supposed to comprise two clauses called the Reasonableness Clause and the Warrant Clause (ONeill, 2011).
However, interpretations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as of most other amendments have varied over the years depending on the contemporaries and situation. Besides, the Supreme Court has repeatedly attempted to complement the text of the amendment with current reality and make it suitable with respect to the ongoing progress of society and technology. Such differences in interpretations have instigated emergence of doubts and skepticism of whether the Fourth Amendment is interpreted and applied as intended by its creators. It has been also argued whether it should be further enforced as in the past without significant alterations.
Furthermore, some scholars even suppose the todays interpretation of the Fourth Amendment is fraudulent and that Fourth Amendment reasonableness is only a modern, destructive, judicial myth (Davies, 2010). Withal, all problems relating to interpretation of the amendment under consideration occur because its meaning has gone through chameleonlike changes throughout American history (ONeill, 2011). On the one hand, the Congress can stop further debates through some resolute legislative action that would clarify the contemporary scope of the Fourth Amendment. On the other hand, the US Supreme Court could suspend current debates through unanimously and authoritatively deciding on its applicability to various instances.
However, the former action is highly unlikely to happen in the nearest future. It may result in dissatisfaction and protests among certain groups of the population if not the entire American nation that is very sensitive about privacy and limitations of its freedoms. The latter option concerning the Supreme Court would possibly create even more doubts and speculations about the lack of consistency in the judicial system and interference with the peoples rights.
Scope of the Fourth Amendment
At the time of its adoption, the Fourth Amendment was intended to protect American citizens against general warrants that could be issued by the government with respect to any property and any person of interest. Thus, the basis of the amendment was common law, which originated in the UK and represented a British conviction that every person had to be safe in their own home. Later, the amendment had to be interpreted by the Supreme Court to be properly applied by law enforcement agencies.
Hence, for it to be applied, there had to be certain circumstances, including a search and a seizure, which were usually associated with criminal cases (US Government Publishing Office, 2002). Moreover, there had to be an attempt to use evidence obtained through such search and seizure in court.
Therefore, the scope of the Fourth Amendment, as was initially defined by the Supreme Court, concerned protection of private property. As determined in Entick v. Carrington, the right to have property protected is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole (US Government Publishing Office, 2002). Protection of property interests remained the key principle of the Fourth Amendment stipulated by the US Supreme Court for many years.
However, later it became evident that a focus should be shifted from property to the protection of privacy, which resulted in the Supreme Courts conclusion that this amendment protects people, not places (US Government Publishing Office, 2002). In the case of Katz, a special test for determining whether the amendment could be applicable was offered, which had to decide whether there is an expectation of privacy upon which one may justifiably rely (US Government Publishing Office, 2002).
Therefore, the main consideration for courts had to be whether a person of interest had a justifiable and reasonable expectation to enjoy protection against governmental intrusion in a peculiar place. It henceforth ruled whether the Fourth Amendment was applicable to the case of that person. In Wyoming v. Houghton case that took place in 1999, the Supreme Court laid the foundation for the two-clause understanding of the amendment. It had to be decided whether searches and seizures were reasonable and to which extent they invaded a persons privacy, while assessing how necessary this procedure was under peculiar legitimate consequences (ONeill, 2011).
Exclusionary Rule, Third-Party Doctrine, and Their Potential to Benefit Criminals
Nowadays, exclusionary rule and third-party doctrine are among the most widely discussed and controversial issues relating to the Fourth Amendment. Legal scholars and the general public have been discussing their implementation and benefits, as well as offering either to expand or limit their use depending on each particular case. Thus, the exclusionary rule stipulates that evidence obtained through unconstitutional means cannot be used in court. In general outline, it excludes evidence that would never have been acquired if the police had obeyed the Fourth Amendment in the first place (Bandes, 2009).
The Exclusionary Rule
The exclusionary rule may be considered both as a remedy for violation of the persons rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment and a means of deterrence for the police. This rule has been traditionally considered the main mechanism that allows criminals to go free even if they are guilty and there is sufficient evidence. Nevertheless, the latter has been acquired by police officers not in an utterly constitutional way. For instance, Justice Cardozo was very vocal about his disagreement with the principles of the exclusionary rule as, in his opinion, it protected criminals who were truly guilty.
However, the Supreme Court has so far upheld a position that a criminal is to go free if the court cannot sentence him/her with the help of the constitutionally acquired evidence as it is stipulated by the law (Bandes, 2009). The main reason of such position is that if the government starts breaching its own laws, then it should not expect its citizens to obey it, hence leading to a potential destruction of the state and anarchy.
There are no accurate data about the number of criminals set free under the provisions of the exclusionary rule even though some researchers suppose that these numbers are not as high as traditionally supposed (Bandes, 2009). Some researchers even suppose that this rule should be made a constitutional right, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly maintained that it is not a personal constitutional right of the party aggrieved (Clancy, 2013).
However, proponents of the exclusionary rule fear its potential abandonment, which is truly possible judging from attitudes of current Supreme Court Justices. The problem is that it is the only effective means of deterrence for the law enforcement and the only efficient remedy in case of the amendment violation (Clancy, 2013). Nonetheless, the exclusionary rule is really a beneficial tool for criminals should they have a decent attorney capable of proving that the defendants privacy was violated.
The scope of application of the Fourth Amendment is rather broad since people expect that their privacy will be protected from intrusion in a wide variety of places, including their gadgets. In turn, police officers are human beings prone to making procedural mistakes and even serious errors in their pursuit of a criminal, which may render much evidence unconstitutional in the result. This way, many criminals have a way out when their case is presented in court.
Under the third-party doctrine, information provided to third parties by individuals should not be expected to remain private and can be obtained by government agencies and later be used as evidence in court. Hence, the government is entitled to access information, inspecting websites visited by people, lists of their email contacts, dialed numbers, various records, including banking, utility, library, and education ones, as well as a wide range of other data provided to third parties on a voluntary basis (Thompson, 2014).
Under the current interpretation of the third-doctrine, it is possible to reconstruct virtually the entire life of a person through the allowed information. Therefore, there is an offer to limit the scope of allowable non-content transactional data that could be obtained by the government without the persons knowledge and a special warrant (Thompson, 2014). This offer is generally supported by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Alito, especially after the recent scandals concerning massive surveillance organized by the government.
Unfortunately, there is no definite decision on that yet. Opponents of limitation of the third-party doctrine scope claim that such move would create significant complications for the law enforcement agencies when investigating cases, allowing criminals to remain undetected and free. In turn, proponents suppose that such limitation would benefit the entire nation by safeguarding privacy.
Is the Fourth Amendment Too Beneficial Towards Criminals?
Taking the afore-mentioned speculations into consideration, it should be decided whether the Fourth Amendment is in fact too beneficial towards criminals as supposed by some views. However, opinion presented in the current paper is subjective and may fail to take into consideration all aspects of the issue discussed in a huge amount of credible literary sources. Overall, it may be concluded that the Fourth Amendment really has some benefits for criminals, in particular restrictions relating to search and seizures and the exclusionary rule, which will be the only supplement in case the third-party doctrine scope is limited.
Besides, these benefits are also available for and applicable to common citizens who can be sure that their interests and privacy are protected from state intrusion at least to some extent. Otherwise, the state would have access to any private information, having control over all aspects of peoples lives. It would turn a currently democratic country that respects and safeguards human rights into an authoritative state with pervasive control and no room for dissent and free communication.
In case the Fourth Amendment and rules relating to it are altered or even abolished, people would feel insecure and constantly threatened by the state. They would fear that police officers can freely seize and search them without any reasonable ground, but upon mere suspicion that something is wrong. Therefore, the above question particularly concerns the balance between some criminals that are freed based on the amendment and the entire nations privacy right.
Moreover, many scholars agree that the number of criminals freed because of the exclusionary rule is not that significant. Of course, it may be assumed that a much larger number of suspects are not proved guilty since they cannot be thoroughly investigated due to the Fourth Amendment constrains. Nevertheless, in such way, almost any person may be accused of some minor offence even if he or she is not guilty. The law enforcement has to be careful and scrupulous when searching for evidence in criminal cases in order not to accuse and sentence an innocent person.
Thus, the Fourth Amendment provides such person with a defense mechanism. Should the person be truly guilty, there are ways to acquire evidence and proofs by constitutional means. Hence, no Fourth Amendment-related rules and doctrines would help the person escape a just punishment. However, law enforcement bodies are responsible for development and following guidelines and rules in order to abide by them and comply with the Fourth Amendment in its current interpretation by the Supreme Court. They also have to find convincing and constitutional evidence admissible in criminal cases in court.
The current paper has strived to answer a topical question of whether the Fourth Amendment is too beneficial towards criminals. Based on the above presented arguments, it may be concluded that the Fourth Amendment does provide some benefits to criminals, but these advantages are also provided to common citizens, ensuring protection of their privacy within a reasonable scope.
Therefore, the amendment may be deemed a crucial constitutional defense mechanism for all people, irrespective of whether they are criminals. Besides, the law enforcement possesses a lot of capabilities to prove suspects guilt without a breach of the amendment. Moreover, courts are rather flexible when it relates to exclusions from the exclusionary rule, as well as forthcoming in case police officers have been scrupulous and law-abiding during the investigation.
The courts are also judicious wise when there is enough evidence to prove the defendants guilt without violating his/her essential rights. Considering different opinions and implications, the Fourth Amendment is not too beneficial towards criminals as even delinquents are entitled to certain basic human rights, including the ones guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.