Cops 'N Dopers - Policias y Drogueros
A People's Guide to the 4th Amendment or How to Avoid a Bust!
Written in English and Spanish, side-by-side, page to page. Learn a language!
Cops 'n Dopers uses cartoons and a game format to communicate the criteria whereby the state (usually the police) may intrude on your privacy. We provide information that can help you to protect your privacy and to deal with confrontations should they occur, whether you are in your home, in your garden, in your car, or in a public place.
For those of you who aren't clear on what the 4th Amendment is about, here's a brief look...
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
This can all get pretty complex, but, to begin with, what this means to you is that if you are arrested, and if the evidence against you was seized (obtained, acquired, gotten) in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the state cannot use the evidence against you.
If this is all the evidence the state has, your case will be dismissed. This is often described as getting off on a "legal technicality" - a horribly misleading way to describe what is really a solemn judicial function. It makes it sound like someone rolled some otherwise inconsequential dice and came up with a random, ill deserved winner.
So, why would we want to have a rule like that?
The Fourth Amendment is the line between the government and the people. It says We the People have a right to be let alone by our government.
The idea is that by denying the state the use of evidence it has seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, we are demanding that the state (usually through the police) follow the rules and we are saying that the judiciary is not going to be an accomplice when the state violates those rules.
A quote from Justice Brandeis, dissenting in a U.S. Supreme Court case called Olmstead v. U.S., enunciates the rationale for our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, our right to be let alone by the government:
"The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only part of the pain, pleasures and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred as against the government, the right to be let alone - the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men."
This is not lightweight stuff! The idea is that our right to be let alone by the government is significantly more important to us as a nation than the fact that some creep may end up avoiding well deserved jail time.
If we were to allow the state to use evidence regardless of how it's obtained, we would open the door to abuses by the state of our right to privacy and our precious right to be let alone -- "the right most valued by civilized men."