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Reclaiming the Fourth Amendment

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

~ Irish orator John Philpot Curran, 1790.

            The Fourth Amendment needs saving.  It is the RIGHT of the American people enumerated and guaranteed in the original Bill of Rights.  It promises American citizens that their bodies, houses, papers, purses, wallets and pockets will stand secure against unreasonable search and seizure.  However, a search and seizure can be levied should there be probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed and a sworn warrant is issued describing the same.

            Originally, Americans were free to live their lives, pursue their property and involve themselves in happiness.  But through driving laws, the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism, the Fourth Amendment has been largely eroded.  The words no longer carry much meaning.    

            The Fourth Amendment has been replaced by two hundred years of Supreme Court case law.  It has become the rule that was swallowed up by the exceptions.  A fair rendering of the Amendment in the Twenty-First Century would read:

The rights of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularity describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.   

However, should the citizen be driving a motor vehicle on any public road, they are presumed to have given up this in exchange for the privilege of travel on the roads paid for by the taxpayer. 

Should the citizen be acting reasonably suspicious, as judged by a police officer, he may be stopped and frisked. 

Should the citizen combine awkward behavior with have the slightest history of drug abuse, he will essentially open up the door to search and seizure.  Furthermore, should the officer see you as a danger, he can search your car for weapons incident to arrest.

Search and seizure will be respected by anyone other than it is not the government.  However, when entering tax-payer funded buildings, the citizen will not only check his Second Amendment right at the door, but must also check his Fourth Amendment right as the beep of a metal detector overrides the Constitutional protection.

Meanwhile, airports will be areas designated where government officials have full authority to stop you, question you, search you, search your personal effects, seize your personal effects, and detain you.    

The citizen has a lot of protection in his own house.  But not necessarily in the curtilage of his yard, and the police can use a plane to fly overhead to take photographs.  Obviously, as soon as he leaves his driveway, those protections fall away because judges have told us that you, the citizen, no longer have an expectation of privacy. 

Additionally, the scant protections given to you, in your home, do not necessarily apply to you in someone else’s home. 

Thus, in summary, if you do not drive, travel, leave your home, do drugs, have guests over, present a terrorist threat or in any way act suspicious of the foregoing, the Fourth Amendment will apply to you – unless, the officer who beats down your door by mistake yet finds unsavory activities, does so based on the reliance of a sworn warrant in good faith.

But seriously, outside of that, you are protected.  Unless you are wiretapped, you know, because of terrorism.

That is the Fourth Amendment as it stands after the last fifty years of Supreme Court law.  But as long as the Amendment remains stained on our Constitutional document, we can regain and reshape the interpretation of the law just as courts have done.  We can stand up and declare this right a right belonging to the people, not the Supreme Court.  We can take back our right.

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