03 September 2009

The Bill of Rights Part III and IV

When I announced I was going to write about the Bill of Rights, I intended to write 10 individual pieces, one for each amendment. Well, if you are an American citizen with even the slightest inkling of our Constitution and first 10 Amendments, aka The Bill of Rights, then you know there's not much to say about the Third Amendment. So, I am going to write about both the Third and Fourth Amendments today.

The Third Amendment has lost some of its relevance over the years since the Civil War; if you just don't understand what I mean, here it is verbatim for you, "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." This amendment was included in the bill specifically to prevent the government from forcing homeowners to house soldiers in their homes without their consent; if you are even a mediocre student of American History, you would know this was a common practice by the British government in our pre-Revolutionary War days.

In fact, I can only remember one incident where the Third Amendment was invoked; in 1979, in the state of New York, prison officials organized a strike and were promptly evicted from their residences that were on prison grounds. National Guard members were put in those residences since they were now running the prisons. The lawsuit the prison officials filed claimed their Third Amendment rights had been violated; this was rejected by the court and was appealed. The Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled the prison officials had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy regardless whether they owned their residences, since they legally lived there it was "their personal property" and therefore, under the Fourth Amendment, the appeal was granted and the officials got their homes back. This is just a bare reference to the incident, if you would like details you can look it up using this information: Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d. Cir. 1982).

Which now brings me to the Fourth Amendment, "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." This amendment should be self-explanatory, but it, as well as all of the other amendments, is misunderstood by a great majority of people. Its intent was to ban warrant less searches of private property by officials, a reaction to the British Government's penchant for using general warrants to conduct raids in search of materials that were thought to be attacking both government policies and the King, George II and later George III.

So basically, this amendment tells us the police cannot just come into your house and search for anything that could get you into trouble. Rather, the police must first apply for a warrant to search and then the warrant must detail what they are searching for. However, folks, this doesn't mean if you are driving erratically the police can't pull you over and search you or your car. Nope, your behavior can give an officer of the law a little thing called probable cause. In other words, if you give the officer a reason to suspect you are driving drunk, the officer can legally search you and your vehicle so...for all you malcontents out there who think a field sobriety test is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, think again (I say this because, as a former cop, I ran across this several times).

What it does mean is you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home and in your car. The government cannot just walk right into your home without cause and search for anything illegal. Nor can the government pull you over on the road "just because", nope kids, if you see the blue flashies in your rear-view mirror chances are you either did something or your car has something wrong with it like a burned-out light.

What else can happen, you ask? Well, let's say the neighbors have been calling the police about the smell emanating from your home, they think you're cooking meth in you garage. The police can come and investigate but cannot enter your property without a warrant so they apply for a search warrant that allows them into your home...they search your entire house but you're smart, you cleaned up the other day so they don't find anything...until they see something you forgot to throw away on your garage workbench...it's not specifically mentioned in the warrant but there it is, plain as day. They can't touch it because it's not in the warrant, right? WRONG. There is a little exception in the rulebook that talks about plain sight!

Basically, it means if they are legally searching for something but find something else that was out in the open, they can take it as evidence. Same thing in your car, if you are pulled over for, let's say speeding, and as the officer is writing the ticket he notices the dime bag of weed on the floorboard that you forgot to stash, he can arrest you for possession without having to apply for a warrant. Yep, you guessed it, I saw that one too when I was a cop.

So kids, I hope we learned something today. There is a ton of information out there on the Third and Fourth Amendments; much much more than I can cover here, so I hope you will do what it is I do whenever I read a column like this. Research the information yourself, don't just take the writer's word for it. We've got enough ignorant idiots like that here; I call them reporters.

Coming next - the Fifth Amendment, I promise I won't take the Fifth!

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