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The Fourth Amendment

Abusive searches, ransacking of homes, and rummaging through papers are among the grievances that helped originate the Fourth Amendment. Practically, it serves as prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures of American citizens. In other words, it limits the power of government to search and seize. In many years that the Fourth Amendment has been adopted, rules to control the manner in which the police conducts searches and seizures have been established. The real aim is to safeguard the right of citizens to be protected against unreasonable activities the law enforcers. Notably, it is considered a cornerstone in the history of American liberty. This paper focuses on the Fourth Amendment, which forms the basis of law regarding people’s right, searches and seizures, the existence of exigent circumstances, warrants, and reasonableness versus unreasonableness.

People’s Rights, Searches and Seizures

Under the Fourth Amendment, the right of the people not to be searched or seized unreasonably is granted. In fact, this right to be protected can only be violated upon a probable cause that should be supported by an oath or affirmation (McInnis, 2010). Therefore, a warrant should be issued describing the place where the police will conduct the search and the persons or things to be seized. In relation to searches, the Fourth Amendment limits the power of government agencies (Galiano, 2011). It prevents the law enforcers from searching a person’s home and personal belongings on mere speculation. In addition, the provisions of the amendment state that the government must have a justifiable reason to search through belongings that are treated with privacy (Stephens & Glenn, 2006).

Furthermore, when addressing seizures in accordance to the amendment, a seizure is defined in regards to people and materials things. What is more, when a person is seized, there are some elements that may have occurred (McInnis, 2010). For instance, the person was arrested, investigated, or detained against his or her will. On the other hand, if a person has given his or her consent to be interviewed by a government agent, then it would not be categorized as seizure (Garry, 2012).  However, it will become a seizure when the police act in a manner that shows a person that his or her liberty of movement is limited.  Moreover, if there is a measurable interference to the interest of a person to particular property, then a seizure has occurred (Smith, 2010).

Exigent Circumstances

There are circumstances that occur in relation to searches and seizures that allow them to be deemed unreasonable. It involves determining the gravity of the offense that an individual has been arrested for (Stephens & Glenn, 2006). A major concern on exigent circumstances relates to home entries that are conducted without a warrant to make arrests for minor offenses. In most cases, it is required for the government to demonstrate exigency before its agents invade a home (Garry, 2012). Law enforcement officers are also required to make arrests upon the issuance of a warrant from a detached judge. However, despite the exstence of these circumstances, there are cases when making arrests without warrants is necessary (Galiano, 2011).

First, the police should make an arrest when there is limited time to assess whether or not a warrant has been issued. Secondly, a warrantless home entry should be justified to prevent imminent destruction or removal of evidence (McInnis, 2010). This is to say that the existence of exigency depends on the nature and gravity of the crime involved particularly in home entries. Thirdly, the police officers may conduct a search without a warrant when there is probable cause (Smith, 2010). In its practical application, exigent circumstances involve elements such as probable cause, a threat to the safety of the public or police officers, and a possibility of the suspect fleeing before a warrant is obtained (Galiano, 2011).


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One of the most important rules that have been established after the adoption of the Fourth Amendment is the use of warrants. In practical terms, warrants are like permission slips that are given to law enforces so that they can search a specific place (Stephens & Glenn, 2006). It enables the police to look for evidence of a crime. Warrants are issued by a judge. However, police officers must convince a judge that there are good reasons to search a specific place (Galiano, 2011). For instance, the judge must be convinced that a certain place is being suspected to contain stolen goods, illegal items, or materials related to a crime scene. It is also relevant to note that the issuance of a warrant by the magistrate still limits the manner in which the search will be conducted (Smith, 2010).  The police are not allowed to search in places or for things that are not included in the warrant. They should also present the warrant to the person residing in the place of search before it commences (Garry, 2012).

Reasonableness vs. Unreasonableness

In relation to the provision of the Fourth Amendment, warrantless searches and seizures are mostly deemed unreasonable. However, there is an exception of reasonableness when a person is arrested in a public place and the nature of the crime is classified as a felony (McInnis, 2010). Additionally, determining whether the government has acted unreasonably requires balancing the interests in which the government has intruded on the privacy of an individual. When these interests fail to justify government’s intrusion, a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurs (Garry, 2012). Consequently, this violation may result in any evidence derived from the unlawful search to be excluded from judicial proceedings. However, this exclusion does not apply in proceedings that involve the removal of aliens from America. In other words, the reasonableness test for the Fourth Amendment focuses more on the actions of the government than on personal autonomy values (Stephens & Glenn, 2006).

It is a principle that limits the government from acting arbitrarily, although it does seek to preserve an individual’s autonomy in every circumstance (Garry, 2012). There are instances in which an entry into a house can be legitiimate without a warrant, such as during hot pursuits. For this reason, the courts are required to create a balance to measure the reasonableness versus unreasonableness (Smith, 2010). A balance is necessary when applied as a test to justify all forms of government searches and intrusions. These include searches of prison inmates, entries to property to investigate fires, and inventory searches of persons taken into police custody (Galiano, 2011).

In addition, checkpoints like roadblocks have been allowed under the Fourth Amendment for a long time although they intrude on personal privacy (McInnis, 2010). Furthermore, there is a large number of individuals that are subjected to screening in areas such as airports without any violation of the amendment.  Another allowable instance of reasonableness occurs when the police officer is acting in good faith (Stephens & Glenn, 2006). These are occurrences when there is a need to protect life or avoid serious injuries. On the contrary, it would be unreasonable to use the Fourth Amendment to limit the intrusion of the government in cases of danger and harm (Garry, 2012). 

Besides, reasonable test also applies to seizure. For instance, when a police officer merely questions an individual about his identity, regardless of whether they are aware that he can refuse to answer, it is not considered to be a seizure (Smith, 2010). Therefore, the questioned individual should not treat this questioning as reasonable grounds for suspecting that they are an alien. Nonetheless, if a police officer has intimidated this individual such that he or she believed that the questioning perceived him or her as an alien, then this interrogation becomes a seizure (Stephens & Glenn, 2006).

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Moreover, reasonableness test requires that the police should have comprehensive facts rather than suspicions. These facts are used to show that the questioned individual is attempting to be or has engaged in an offense against the US or is an illegal alien (Garry, 2012). Additionally, detaining a suspect following an interrogation does not violate the provision of the Fourth Amendment. The case is reasonable if during the course of the interview the police have found sufficient evidence to suspect the interrogated person of wrongdoing. However, an officer cannot construe a person’s refusal to be interrogated as sufficient reason to suspect them of wrongdoing (McInnis, 2010).

In conclusion, the Fourth Amendment serves as the protection of American citizens against searches and seizures that are not reasonable. It is a cornerstone of the law regarding search warrants, seizures, safety inspection, and other privacy laws.  Further, this right to be protected can only be violated upon a probable cause that should be supported by an oath or affirmation. In addition, the amendment also grants protection against search and seizure of property in a manner that interferes with the privacy that an individual has attached to that property. Moreover, the amendment requires that arrests and searches should only be conducted when a warrant has been issued. However, the existence of exigent circumstances may make it appropriate to make warrantless arrests. These are the instances that government agencies have deemed to be reasonable.