The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution gives each of us some of our most valuable rights as U.S. citizens. It specifically gives each of us the right to be secure in our homes. It also protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, because these rights are personal — only you can assert them. And if you don’t assert them, no one will assert them on your behalf. In fact, you actually waive your rights when you fail to personally assert them. Moreover, with very limited exceptions the government does not have to explain your rights to you before asking you to do something that will waive those rights.
Because the 4th Amendment is one of the fundamental underpinnings of individual liberty in our society, a look at its history is informative. The founders of our country generally agreed that all persons had a natural right to be free from government intrusion into their homes. In fact, one of the biggest grievances that led to the American Revolution was the use of “writs of assistance” by the British government. With a “writ of assistance,” the King’s representatives could enter your property with no notice and for no particular reason. In a well known case from that time, Boston lawyer James Otis represented a group of merchants who sued the British government claiming that the use of writs of assistance against was unjust. While Mr. Otis lost the case, his argument condemning writs of assistance and general search warrants was considered by many (including John Adams who was present in the courtroom) to be one of the sparks that started the American Revolution.
Revolutionary war patriots such as Benjamin Franklin were also keenly aware of the importance of protecting your rights by actually understanding them — and then where appropriate actually asserting them. This thinking was succinctly summed up by Mr. Franklin’s with the words: “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” While these word are still true today, there are many reasons law abiding citizens are uncomfortable with actually exercising their constitutional rights. There is the natural apprehension at the prospect of appearing uncooperative. “Why wouldn’t that guy let the police search his car if he did not do anything wrong??” Moreover, even routine encounters with the police can be intimidating simply because you know that they have the power to arrest you. So our stress level is likely to go way up at the thought of telling a policeman “no.” These are all reasons that many people often choose to go along with a police officer’s unconstitutional request rather than say no. So even when you know and understand your rights, it still takes courage to actually assert them — which is what ultimately protects all of us.
While we generally advocate cooperating with the police, we are also glad to occasionally see examples of people affirmatively exercising their constitutional rights rather than taking the path of least resistance. The most recent example we came across of someone doing just this is preserved in a YouTube video. Mr. AVel Amarel was in his home when two police officers knocked on his door looking for a suspected felon. In the face of some aggressive law enforcement techniques, Mr. Amarel continued to video the encounter and stood his constitutional ground. We are sure that some who watch the video will view Mr. Amarel as unnecessarily obstructionist, and that others will view the police officer’s behavior as bullying and intimidating. But regardless of how you view the interaction — it is still an excellent example of how to assert your rights. It is also a credit to the two police officers who ultimately respected Mr. Amarel’s constitutional rights and went on their way. To view this video and decide for yourself, click here.
For more information on search warrants and your 4th Amendment rights, click this link to our firm’s Warrantless Search page.