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The Fourth Amendment: Search & Seizure

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  • 0:07 Fourth Amendment Rights
  • 2:59 Kyllo v. US
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

One of our rights according to the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution is the Fourth Amendment, and it protects citizens from illegal search and seizure of person or property with proper warrants stating probable cause.

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution. This amendment protects citizens from illegal search and seizure of person or property without a warrant or probable cause. This simply means that the government cannot enter one's home, search one's belongings or take any possessions without the proper procedures taken. You see, citizens are afforded an expectation of privacy in their daily lives.

An expectation of privacy means a citizen expects privacy and the expected privacy is a universal norm, like keeping the contents of your wallet or your dresser drawers to yourself. The question of expected privacy comes into play when the very thing a citizen expects to be private is actually public. Let's set the record straight here.

If a person is pulled over by the police and it is noticed that there is a bag of marijuana and a handgun in plain view, there is no expectation of privacy. Because evidence is left in the open for anyone to see, it's considered incriminating on face value and requires no warrant.

It works the same way with a stop and frisk. In this instance, the police are authorized to administer a light pat-down of a suspect if there is reasonable suspicion, meaning they believe a crime either took place, is taking place, or is about to take place. The pat down can only be done over outer garments. It cannot be invasive in any way or require a suspect to remove any article of clothing.

Let's get back to the example of the motor vehicle stop. If the marijuana and handgun are hidden under the car seat and there is no justifiable reason to search the car, a search cannot be done. The driver of the car, albeit carrying on illegal activities, is owed privacy.

This is where probable cause comes into play. This means that the facts are apparent and obvious to a reasonable person, and if those facts are apparent, a search may be conducted. An example of an apparent fact might be marijuana smoke floating around the inside of the car. It doesn't even need to be that obvious. The mere smell of marijuana or even a box of ammunition may be enough to prompt police to have a look-see.

Once probable cause has been determined, a warrant is issued. This is simply a writ ordering or allowing the police to take action by searching or seizing persons or property. This can be in the form of an arrest warrant, a document from a judge that states, upon probable cause, a person can be taken into custody. In other words, this means a person can be taken to jail!

A search warrant allows the police or investigators to search for a specific location for evidence. Without this, police cannot initiate a search of property. A case may help to explain this.

Kyllo v. U.S.

Kyllo v. U.S. demonstrates how the government violated the Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure. The big question here is whether using surveillance used outside the home is considered unreasonable.

Let's break this down. The police suspected Kyllo's home was a marijuana grow-house. In order to obtain enough evidence to produce an arrest, the police would need proof that there was marijuana growing within the home.

Sometime in 1992, a National Guardsman pointed an infrared device at Kyllo's home. He also pointed it at the adjoining homes on either side. The device detected a higher rate of heat coming from Kyllo's home. This, along with other evidence like unusually high electric bills, gave way to the belief that there was marijuana growing in the home. This led to probable cause and a warrant was issued to search the home. As suspected, marijuana was found, and Kyllo was arrested, tried and convicted.

During the appeal, Kyllo defended himself using the Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure, contending that the infrared device used to detect the possible marijuana plants was performed illegally. You see, normally, this type of technology is used by companies to detect heat loss from windows and doors or to test the insulation effectiveness in a home. It is not intended to be used as a surveillance tool.

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