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.
The 4th Amendment touches the lives of many Americans every day. Every search of a home or car, every arrest, every airline security search, every impounded vehicle, and even every locker search by a high school principal falls under the potential scrutiny of the 4th Amendment.
Unfortunately, the 4th Amendment has undergone some notoriously inconsistent interpretations and seemingly arbitrary applications in those court cases that attempt to define it. Judges and lawyers have expressed exasperation over the inconsistency and uncertainty produced by these decisions, and police officers must daily operate within somewhat blurred and fluctuating parameters that they have defined.
The Framers of the 4th Amendment were fairly clear about the sort of abuses they were trying to avoid. But it is much less clear how we should apply the 4th Amendment to modern police procedures. Justice Felix Frankfurter once remarked that, with respect to searches and seizures, “the course of true law . . . has not – to put it mildly – run smooth.”