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Columns : Editorial

Fourth Amendment Blues

The fundamental rights of the American people often make your job much more difficult.

June 05, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo via Chuck Coker/Flickr.
Photo via Chuck Coker/Flickr.
Two recent events—the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt and the Cleveland kidnappings—illustrate the complicated relationship between the Bill of Rights and effective crime fighting. Essentially, because of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. And the public has no sympathy whatsoever for your precarious position.

There was a time in Colonial America when the authorities could break into anyone's home in search of criminals or, more likely, revenue. The king's tax collectors accompanied by the king's soldiers would barge into people's dwellings and businesses without warrants and take inventory of their belongings and merchandise to ensure that the appropriate excise tax was paid on said goods.

A sense of outrage regarding the king's authorities and their warrantless searches carried over after the American Revolution and was the impetus for the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless search and seizure is one of the fundamental rights of all Americans. It's also the grounds for many "civil rights violation" lawsuits filed against law enforcement officers, agencies, and the government entities that employ officers. The Fourth Amendment comes into play in bad searches and bad arrests.

Quite frankly, the Fourth Amendment can be a hindrance to crime fighting. It's the reason that a bad search can lead to evidence against a suspect being thrown out of court. It's why you can't just search a guy's car at a traffic stop when every fiber of your body tells you that he is up to no good. It's also why the police in the Boston area and the city of Cleveland are being criticized for the ways they handled the manhunt for the Marathon bombers and the investigation into the abductions of three young women.

Former congressman and Libertarian hero Ron Paul has slammed the methods that law enforcement agencies used in the manhunt for the second Boston Marathon Bombing suspect. Paul argued that law enforcement ordered a lockdown of Boston and its suburbs and systematically violated the Fourth Amendment with searches of homes and businesses. But his argument does not stand the accuracy test. The lockdown was actually voluntary and the searches were conducted with the appropriate constitutional permissions. Still, Paul and his ilk believe that what happened in Boston after the bombing smacked of a police state.

The Cleveland kidnappings present an even more complicated portrait of how the Fourth Amendment hinders crime fighting and opens you up to criticism, regardless of your actions. As almost everyone knows from media coverage, three young women were reportedly kidnapped and held as sex slaves for more than 10 years. Neighbors of the suspect blame police for failing to follow up on complaints about the house. They say they informed police that they heard banging inside the supposedly empty home, that they saw its single known resident bringing in lots of fast food, that the house's windows were covered with black plastic, and that they saw naked women on leashes in the backyard.

There is no evidence that the Cleveland Division of Police received these complaints or that the house or its owner were on the radar of detectives investigating the kidnappings. But let's suppose that the house was an investigative target and the complaints were investigated. It's doubtful that it would have made any difference. Only one of these complaints, the one about naked women in the backyard, likely would have resulted in a warrant from a lenient judge. The others taken singularly and with no other evidence would probably have not met the hurdle of probable cause.

Critics in Cleveland believe the police should have done something. Critics of the Boston PD and other agencies involved in the bomber manhunt believe they did too much.

And it all comes down to the Fourth Amendment, one that you swore an oath to defend, regardless of how difficult it makes your job. As Americans we wouldn't have it any other way, except when our loved ones are the victims of criminals. Then we'll scream at you and ask you why you didn't do something.

Tags: Fourth Amendment, Boston Marathon Bombing, Cleveland Division of Police, Boston PD


Comments (17)

Displaying 1 - 17 of 17

Travis @ 6/10/2013 10:54 AM

David Griffith: Ron Paul had it right and you are a disgrace to even suggest that what happened in Boston was remotely Constitutional. Having a paramilitary action on the streets of America with law enforcement pointing their weapons at the heads of innocent Americans will go down as one the worst cases of police abuse in history. And no, "we were just following orders" will be as effective now as it was in the past.

Shame on you and the law enforcement of Boston.

Old Cop @ 6/11/2013 3:08 PM

Travis, you sniveling Internet troll,

Tom Ret @ 6/11/2013 3:09 PM

From what I saw, the police did a good job overall in Boston. If the average citizen thought they were out of line, I don't see them lining the street clapping as they drove off. Critics of the Boston Police and the agencies that assisted should remember the officer who gave his life and another critically wounded in literally putting their butts on the line to safeguard the public. Ron Paul has more merit in his criticism concerning the federal government's overreach especially in light of Clappers current lying about NSA actions.

Randy @ 6/11/2013 4:06 PM

Tom Ret and Old cop, I'm also retired from the job. Police officers are citizens too. If you think for a moment that in general the police in this country are not becoming more and more para-military then your eyes are completely closed. Sadly, but appropriately, a crime in progress or after the fact, does not give our government local, state or federal any right to go beyond the constitutional authority no matter the circumstances. And we the people don't want it any other way. We have to think about what is right for all the people not what is right at the moment no matter what. Sure, its good to find the 2nd bomber but at what cost? The lives of a few should not take precedence over everyone else s rights. We built this country on defending those rights with our lives. The moment we take 'our lives' off the table, it is no longer important and we will eventually just submit to letting big brother run our lives for us. Consider that when you think the police are always doing whats best for us. I say this from my heart as I love my fellow police officers.

8sam1 @ 6/11/2013 4:33 PM

Born in & proud of Boston. I agree with Old Cop's assessment regarding Travis the Troll. The Boston Marathon Manhunt was successful due to New Englanders, being law enforcement, medical workers & people that tolerated possible inconvenience in the name of getting the suspects. The scope of the search was for the suspects & bombs, not for Mrs. McGillicudy's marijuana brownies or other minor illegalities. People lining the streets, clapping, waving signs & giving praise for law enforcement pursuit of justice was proof positive the citizenry was not dissatified or inconvenienced. None of them was the snivelling, whining, piss ant like Travis or Ron Paul. Go Boston!

Rtr97 @ 6/11/2013 7:24 PM

Travis will be the first one bitching when police "aren't doing enough" to catch a violent offender. Travis, you're an idiot.

Acting Chief S. Thomas @ 6/11/2013 7:45 PM

I agree with Ron Paul and Travis, when he said "David Griffith: Ron Paul had it right and you are a disgrace to even suggest that what happened in Boston was remotely Constitutional. Having a paramilitary action on the streets of America with law enforcement pointing their weapons at the heads of innocent Americans will go down as one the worst cases of police abuse in history. And no, "we were just following orders" will be as effective now as it was in the past.
Shame on you and the law enforcement of Boston."
Wake up guys do not trade liberty for promises of safety. And do not turn a blind eye like the Officers in Germany, just folowing orders.
This will destroy all of us if it is not stopped!! Be real men, for the love of everything that is good, and wake up and stand up!!!!!!
I have put everything on the line to serve the people, to defend liberty and this nation, and I do not take it litely when people want to give it up because of a false flag atack scareing them into trading it for the false promise of safety!! Well not me I will proudly and boldy stand up for what I belive, my honor is not for sale!!! By the way go ahead and be a big man and call me a troll, to you tirent, wake up before people like you cost us all are lives!!!

Ed @ 6/11/2013 9:24 PM

Voluntary lockdown in Boston! Wait a minute. Are you trying to say everyone voluntarily agreed to stay in their homes until the police came and sometimes forcefully removed them from their homes, then searched (ransacked) the place to go on to the next home. I cannot believe everyone would agree to anything especially that, and I know that those who were forced from their homes certainly didn't agree to it. The police/military I believe would have a much harder time with that in a God-fearing, gun-toting, redneck state, they may have had quite a fight. Voluntary, I think not!

Walkintrails @ 6/12/2013 6:37 AM

I've been in LE for 23 years and personally never encountered a situation where the 4th Amendment severely inhibited me from doing my job. That said, I don't think much of the USSC's ruling on temporary trackers on vehicles. I wasn't in Boston so I can't really comment on what police did there. On the other hand, a foreign-bred terrorist, regardless of what piece of paper he has hanging on bis wall declaring his citizenship committed an act of war against the peoples of Boston and the US. He was the one being targeted, not random citizens. Im sure that the people of the Boston area affected are happy police found him. If it caused a few fringe society members to flush their stashes or grows, oh well... in response to the charge that American police are becoming militarized, just consider, for example, the ambushed officer in Kentucky who was performing his duty clearing an obstruction off the road. With people who have no respect for police are going to commit such senslrss acts against them, what choice will cops have but to sent a whole patrol group into and area to secure it before a stepladder that fell off a truck can be cleared from the roadway?

Hector @ 6/12/2013 7:51 AM

I have read this article and read each of your responses and this is my main question:

What would you do to catch a terrorist on U.S. soil. I live in Texas, I am a gun toter and respect the law. As I sit here and think of the "WHAT IFS", I am at the cross roads of allowing law enforcement to go through my home to find a potential suspect or do I refuse and say "You need a warrant to come into my home to conduct a search." As a family man, and knowing the importance of the situation, I think I would gather my family and calmly walk outside and allow the unconstitutional search to be conducted because it is a terrorist. But to all of you that are law enforcement, I went through the police academy here in Texas and I do remember "FRESH PURSUIT". At wht time does FRESH PURSUIT ends or begins?

Stay vested and be safe.

gcpd16 @ 6/12/2013 1:11 PM

I'm glad that your not my acting chief Mr. Thomas. The only thing I think we can all agree on about your post, is that your computer doesn't have spell check. Nothing that Ron Paul says should ever be written down. The people of Boston did step up and help their officers as David Griffith said:
"The lockdown was actually voluntary and the searches were conducted with the appropriate constitutional permissions."
Kudos Beantown...and good luck in your quest for Lord Stanleys Cup.

tiny @ 6/13/2013 5:29 AM

In response to hectors post of:

Hector @ 6/12/2013 7:51 AM

I have read this article and read each of your responses and this is my main question:

What would you do to catch a terrorist on U.S. soil. I live in Texas, I am a gun toter and respect the law. As I sit here and think of the "WHAT IFS", I am at the cross roads of allowing law enforcement to go through my home to find a potential suspect or do I refuse and say "You need a warrant to come into my home to conduct a search." As a family man, and knowing the importance of the situation, I think I would gather my family and calmly walk outside and allow the unconstitutional search to be conducted because it is a terrorist. But to all of you that are law enforcement, I went through the police academy here in Texas and I do remember "FRESH PURSUIT". At wht time does FRESH PURSUIT ends or begins?

Stay vested and be safe.

If you gather your family and walk out allowing them to search, you are giving them consent and it is not an unconstitutional search. Police may ask any person to search their person, vehicle home or premesis in their control without violating that persons rights. It is not unconstitutional to express to that person what the police are looking for and impress upon them the urgency of the situation being dealt with like a dangerous fugitive.

Hector I am not picking on your post I truly appreciate you for being a good citizen who exercises the right to keep and bear arms as well as your spirit of support and cooperation with those who protect our safety while performing their job honorably within the constraints of law.

Acting Chief Thomas @ 6/13/2013 7:00 PM

I donot care what you say, or for that mater what you say about me, I am not calming to be a super literate subject, but if you point a gun at someone and order them out of there home it is not a voluntary search, and since there was no warant it was uncunstitutional, and wrong, whether it is spelled corectly or not. For gods sake wake up, if you are more literate than me prove it with your actions, do your job and stand up for what is right.

ThorOdinson @ 6/15/2013 1:23 AM

If you don't understand the US Constitution and how to work with it you are in the wrong line of work. I can either use deadly force or make a citizen's arrest should some hotdog LEO trespass on my property and kick down my door. If you have probable cause you better learn how to write an affidavit, get judicial review and get a warrant. Of course if all you have is a GED you better learn how to stock shelves at Walmart. Me? I worked fulltime and got a BS in Criminal Justice then learned civil law. Duh.................

Keith @ 6/28/2013 8:56 AM

Voluntary? You've seen the video of the armored vehicle moving down the city street with the idiot muzzling every window? Ordering people looking out their windows to step away? Muzzling the occupants of the homes, ordering them to come out with hands up? Yeah they were acting under duress, fear a coercion.

Sorry the bill of rights makes you all butt hurt and gets in your way of walking all over people...

Ima Leprechaun @ 6/30/2013 5:48 PM

The US Constitution and Bill of Rights are good documents but when Police Officers try to go around them that's when they get into trouble. I don't have a problem with the Police action in the Boston area and had a been a resident there I am sure I would have been thankful for everything they did to assure public safety. They requested public support and got it. They were respectful of residents and conducted searches with permission of the residents. None of the Amendments were bruised. In Cleveland, I have no idea what went on there so I cannot comment about them. But I remember something similar happening with Jeffery Dalhmer when one of his victims was returned to him to so he could continue to kill his escapee. Perhaps some thought might go into those kinds of calls for service. If not for landmark case law Like "Map V Ohio" where poor old Mrs Map had her house searched by order of a blank piece of paper we would not have so many hoops to jump through. I like that the police cannot just bust my door down for no reason and search my house until they find anything they can charge me with. That's when you discover Playboy is considered "porn" by your local Police. Or that your work guns violate some local law. I like that they have to have probable cause to get a search warrant rather than just a hunch. The Constitutional amendments protect everyone and they have good reason to require some proof of a crime first. But there is nothing hindering Law Enforcement by following the rules of law and the law of the land.

JonM1911 @ 7/20/2013 9:49 PM

Yea, that pesky Constitution....how did LE do it 30-40 years ago? Why is it that only recently, its become an issue for LE? The Boston incident was a very special circumstance. However when you have LE breaking down doors and forcing homeowners out so they can use their house as a command post for something going on next door, when the home owners have refused entrance, that, it a problem.

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