Search, Seizure, and Privacy

By Darien A. McWhirter | Go to book overview

another person is guilty of a crime. Let's say that the police have searched Bill's house in violation of the Fourth Amendment and have found evidence that Fred, who is not living in Bill's house, is guilty of a crime. The police can use the evidence against Fred and Fred has no legal complaint. It was Bill's rights that were violated, not Fred's. If the police tried to use the evidence against Bill he could object and the exclusionary rule would keep the evidence out of court.

The issues of consent and standing can become complex. Often the question is whether or not the person, free of coercion by the police, consented to a search. Also, with the issue of standing, it is not always clear when someone has a legal right to complain about the actions of the police. A houseguest who is temporarily staying with a friend has standing to complain about a search of the house while a guest there but not when he or she is no longer a guest.

While these concepts may seem strange, they go back centuries in English common law and have been brought into U.S. constitutional law by the Supreme Court.


CONCLUSION

This book discusses a difficult and divisive area of constitutional decision making, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Those of us who approach the issue today have the benefit of both hindsight and over a century of Supreme Court decisions on the subject. We can see what questions and problems have resulted from particular decisions that could not have been anticipated by the justices who made those decisions.

No matter what a person's opinions are concerning the proper balance between the need for effective law enforcement and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, it is important to understand what the Court has ruled in this area and why. Disagreement based on ignorance is worthless. Reasoned argument based on understanding and facts is the most powerful weapon anyone can wield in a free society.

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