Arrest, Search and Seizure

Published 15 Aug 2016

The Fourth Amendment affirms and guarantees the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures. It stresses the rule that a person’s house is sacred such that not even the highest and mightiest monarch may enter in the absence of the owner’s consent. History shows that the Fourth Amendment was made part of the US Constitution as a response to the widely used general warrants during the British era.

The Fourth Amendment requires that the arresting officer must first secure a warrant before effecting an arrest. The same rule applies to a police officer who must secure a search warrant before he searches a person’s house and seizes documents or papers in his possession. Generally, without an arrest warrant or search warrant, no arrests or seizures can be made.

While the principles enunciated by the Fourth Amendment are clear, this has not prevented police officers from making an arrest or conducting a search without an arrest warrant or search warrant. At times, the police officers, in their zeal to implement the law and put to justice the law-breakers, resort to unorthodox methods not allowed by the US Constitution. The Supreme Court as the protector of the people enunciated the principle of Exclusionary Rule in 1914 in the case of Weeks v. United States (232 US 383) as a means to prevent the practice of police officers in failing to apply for search or arrest warrant before conducting a search or an arrest.

The Exclusionary Rule is not a Constitutional right as it is not included in the US Constitution. It is also not a law as it is not enacted by lawmakers. It is a principle established by the Supreme Court to protect the people against unreasonable searches and seizures. It is a rule of evidence that prohibits the admission in court of any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. According to the Supreme Court, this is the only way to give flesh and blood to the Fourth Amendment as it gives the courts the authority to render inadmissible any evidence that is illegally obtained. It has been held that the exclusion of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is the only practicable means of enforcing the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Exclusionary Rule has been availed of by accused who sought to exclude evidence obtained in the course of an unreasonable search and seizure.

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Weeks v. the United States (232 US 383)

Facts: Weeks, an employee at the Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested for violating § 213 of the Criminal Code. The police officers entered the house of Weeks searched his room and took possession of his papers and articles found inside the house. They returned the same day to once again search Weeks’ room and found letters and envelopes therein. These pieces of evidence were later on used in charging him with violating the state’s Criminal Code. During the trial, the defendant sought the return of the documents found inside his house. Weeks also objected to the introduction of the pieces of evidence found inside his home arguing that the documents have been obtained without a search warrant and by means of breaking open his home in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment.

Issue: whether the seizure of the evidence was lawful

Held: In reversing the conviction against Weeks, the court said that when letters and papers of the accused were taken from his house without any search warrant and in violation of his constitutional rights then the judgment against him should be reversed. While the Supreme Court commended the efforts by the courts and the police officers in their attempt to punish the guilty, it said that the same cannot be done at the expense of sacrificing the fundamental rights protected by the US Constitution. The Supreme Court also declared that it will not tolerate the acts of police officers in utilizing unlawful means to obtain evidence.

The decision in Weeks v. The US was not accepted at first by state courts. In view of the restrictive wording by the Supreme Court, it was made only available to federal courts. State courts until then accepted evidence even if they were illegal obtained. Thus, an absurd situation was created where federal courts were prohibited from accepting evidence illegally obtained while state courts were not bound by this doctrine.

After 30 years, the Weeks v. US decision was recognized as applicable even in prosecutions before state courts using the Due Process clause under the Fourteenth Amendment but the same was not mandatory. In Wolff v. Colorado (388 US 25), the Supreme Court declared that “While the doctrine of Weeks v. the United States, 232 U. S. 383, making evidence secured in violation of the Fourth Amendment inadmissible in federal courts, is adhered to, it is not imposed on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Weeks v. the United States, 232 U. S. 383) The most significant decision happened in 1961 in the case of Mapp v. Ohio (367 US 643) where the Supreme Court overruled the Wolf v. Colorado doctrine and ruled that “All evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Federal Constitution is inadmissible in a criminal trial in a state court.” Mapp v. Ohio (367 US 643)

In the 21st Century, the Exclusionary Rule continues to evolve. The Supreme Court until now is trying to delineate the boundaries in the application of Exclusionary Rule. One thing is clear, though. The Supreme Court will not provide a rule of thumb on this issue. It will continue to decide cases based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. This is what happened in the case of Hudson v. Michigan where the Supreme Court laid to rest the issue of whether police should observe the knock-and-announce rule. An interesting thought, however, is that the Supreme Court, in this case, restricted the application of the Exclusionary Rule. Others say that with this decision, the Exclusionary Rule may in the future be discarded. (Eric Brown 4)

Hudson v. Michigan (547 US 586)

Facts: A search warrant was obtained by the police authorizing the search for drugs and firearms inside the house of Booker T. Hudson. The search yielded positive result as they obtained large quantities of drugs and a loaded gun. When a charge was filed against Hudson, he moved to suppress all this evidence arguing that the police officers prematurely entered his house in violation of the Knock and Announce Rule and the Fourth Amendment. The trial court ruled in favor of Hudson and allowed the suppression of evidence. Michigan Court of Appeals, however, reversed the order. Hudson was subsequently convicted of drug possession.

Issue: whether the knock-and-announce rule requires suppression of evidence found in a search

Ruling: Judgment Affirmed

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Scalia said that exclusionary rule does not apply in this case. Justice Scalia cautions against the indiscriminate application of the Exclusionary Rule. According to Justice Scalia suppression of evidence is allowed only when the suppression of evidence will serve the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee violated. The Knock-and-Announce Rule seeks to protect human life and limb, property and the privacy and dignity of the owners of the house. It, however, does not protect the interest of a person in preventing the government from taking evidence which is covered by a lawful search warrant. In this case, since the interest violated has no connection with the seizure of evidence, the exclusionary rule does not apply.

The controversy behind the Exclusionary Rule continues. Some say that the recent cases support the opinion that the Exclusionary Rule may at any time be discarded. Others say that it is no longer effective as there are other means by which to protect the rights under the constitution. A careful analysis of the situation reveals that the restriction on the application of the Exclusionary Rule reflects the “tough-on-crime” attitude by the courts in our society. My view is that the fundamental rights should not be sacrificed in the guise of maintaining law and order. Exclusionary Rule should not be abolished. The existence of other alternatives to protecting the Fourth Amendment should not justify its abolition. In fact, the alternatives should work in harmony together.

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