Barone's Guide to Government: Searches and Seizures

By Barone, Michael | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, October 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Barone's Guide to Government: Searches and Seizures


Barone, Michael, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


In the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio, by a 6-3 margin, the Supreme Court endorsed the principle that the Fourth Amendment applied to states as well as the federal government

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That provision was adapted from English common law practice. But it leaves unanswered some important questions. What exactly is a “search and seizure”? And can evidence procured in an illegal search and seizure be used by the government to secure a criminal conviction?

The Supreme Court answered the second question in the 1914 case of Weeks v. United States. The defendant stood accused of using the mail to transport lottery tickets, in violation of federal law. At trial, the government used evidence uncovered in a search of his house for which a warrant was not obtained. The Court ruled that the evidence could not be used and that the conviction must be overturned.

The Weeks decision — and what was referred to as the exclusionary rule — applied only to federal criminal cases, and the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies typically obtained search warrants before conducting searches, in order to be assured that evidence would be admissible. …

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