All About the Fourth Amendment

All About the Fourth Amendment

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All About The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution is fraction of the ten Bill of rights that prevents unreasonable search and seizures to property and people. Originally, the Fourth Amendment imposed the concept of a man’s castle being his home and secured unjustified searches by the government. Worth noting, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from arbitrary arrests and forms the basis of laws pertaining to stop-and-frisk, search warrants, wiretaps, safety inspections, and other forms of surveillance. Moreover, the Fourth Amendment is the basis of many other criminal law topics and privacy laws.

The Intention of the Framers

Through drafting the Fourth Amendment, the framers’ intention was to guarantee future generations with similar property protection rights they had gained over centuries over under the mutual laws of America and England. James Madison was an obvious contributor to the Fourth Amendment; he created the amendments first draft. Evidence shows that the Framers of the Fourth Amendment viewed the terms ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ as simply a negative label of the extent of how illegal searches and seizures might happen under general warrants. The Fourth Amendment was adopted instituted in response to abuse of writ of assistance that was a significant source of tension in Revolutionary America.

The Incorporation of the Fourth Amendment

For several decades the government that existed under the Articles of the Confederation had become weak. As a result, a Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia. Here a new constitution was proposed in September 1787 featuring many changes. A Conventional Delegate named George Mason proposed having a list of Bill of rights that guarantees civil liberties (Carbado, 2017, p. 17). Mason also drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. Other delegates included James Madison, who also became a future Bill of Rights drafter. Madison opposed the move arguing that the states that already existed guaranteed sufficient civil liberties. He argued that any attempt at enumerating personal rights risked insinuating that unmade rights were not protected. After a short debate, Mason’s proposal became defeated through a undisputed vote.

In order for the Constitution to be ratified, nine out of thirteen states had to acknowledge it in state convections. While some states opposed its ratification, others supported it. When the first United States Congress was held on the request of the state legislature, Jason Madison proposed twenty amendments with the state bill of rights as a foundation and the Bill of Rights of 1689, including an amendment that needs probable cause in relation to government searches. Congress cut down the proposed amendments to twelve incorporating the modifications proposed by Madison about seizures and searches. The final language was presented to the states for official ratification on 25th September 1789. By the time the Bill of Rights was being presented to the States for ratification, opinions in parties had started shifting (Tokson, 2019, p.12). Most Federalists that previously were opposing the Bill of rights now began supporting it as a way to silence effective criticism of Anti-Federalists. On the contrary, many Anti-Federalists had started opposing the Bill of rights. This is after they realized that adopting the Bill would significantly diminish the chances of another constitutional convection they yearned for. Anti-Federalists, including Richard Henry Lee were convinced that the Bill of Rights omitted the most objectionable part of the Constitution such as direct taxation and federal judiciary.

New Jersey ratified eleven of the twelve amendments on 20th November 1789. The fourth amendment was one of the eleven that were ratified. On 19th December 1789, 19th January 1790 and 22nd December 1789 Maryland, South Caroline, and North Carolina ratified all the twelve amendments. Hampshire and Delaware enacted eleven of the twelve amendments on June 25th 1790 and June 28th 1790 respectively. Although the process stalled in other states, this brought the number of ratifying states to six from the required ten. Georgia and Connecticut refused to ratify the Bill of Rights as they did not find it necessary. Massachusetts managed to ratify most amendments but did not send a notice to the State Secretary. Between February and June 1790, Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island failed to ratify eleven amendments, including the Fourth amendments. While Virginia postponed its debate, Vermont ratified the Bill of Rights on 3rd November 1791. Virginia followed Vermont in ratifying the Bill on 15th December 1791. Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State officially announced the successful adoption of ten ratified amendments on 1st March 1792.

Implementation over Time

Over time, the Fourth Amendment has been taken to mean that it is illegal for law enforcement to arrest or search a person without a judiciary-sanctioned warrant. This is owing to the basic rule of the Amendment that searches and arrests carried out during the judicial process are considered unreasonable. Each search and arrest should be supported with probable cause. The Supreme Court Case Chandler v. Miller (1997) concluded that for a search to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, it must be based on the personalized suspicion of wrongdoing. In essence, the Fourth Amendment prevents the United States government from carrying out unreasonable seizures and searches (Kugler, & Strahilevitz, 2017, p. 72)). This means that according to this Bill, a police officer cannot approach a person or their property to search them without a warrant. The same has also been applying to evidence collection. The Fourth Amendment has been making it possible for people to defend themselves in a court of law. If a person is facing criminal charges after facing an unlawful search, the person can push to have the evidence thrown out if was collected in a manner that infringes on constitutional rights.

How and Why the Fourth Amendment Matters Today

Worth noting, not every case of search and seizure that is scrutinized in federal and state courts applies to the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment only cautions citizens from searches and seizures carried out by the government or in pursuit of a governmental direction. Notably, investigatory and surveillance actions carried out by strictly private individuals such as suspicious spouses, private investigators, or nosey neighbors are not taken into consideration under the Fourth Amendment. The concerns of the Fourth Amendments start when the actions are undertaken by law enforcement officials or other private people working alongside the law enforcement.

How the Fourth Amendment Could Be Changed Procedurally

Today, the Fourth Amendment is seen as a bill that lays an understanding of the exercising restraint on the government anytime it seizes or searches property or an individual unlawfully. There is no assurance that this will remain the case in the future. There is a possibility that the constitution might undergo another series of changes in the following decades; there is no way to tell. The framers of the future might end up adding more bills or even doing away with others as the composition of the society keeps revolving. One thing is for sure that for as long as the Constitution exists, it will always protect citizens and encourage reasonable searches and seizures.


Carbado, D. W. (2017). From Stopping Black People to Killing Black People: The Fourth Amendment Pathways to Police Violence. Calif. L. Rev., 105, 125.

Kugler, M. B., & Strahilevitz, L. J. (2017). The Myth of Fourth Amendment Scrutiny. U. Chi. L. Rev., 84, 1747.

Tokson, M. (2019). The Normative Fourth Amendment. Minn. L. Rev., 104, 741.