4th amendment: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures


The Fourth Amendment to the United States 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”.(U.S. CONST. amend. IV)

The protection guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment is much older than the Amendment itself and is rooted in the common law of England. Semayne\'s Case, perhaps the most cited English case in this context, is famous for the statement that "the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence, as for his repose."(U.S. CONST. amend. IV, 194) this sentiment is echoed in subsequent English cases as well as in William Blackstone\'s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

While the Supreme Court has never held that the Fourth Amendment protects a zone of privacy generally, it has made clear in a long line of cases that one of the central purposes of the Fourth Amendment is to protect a zone of privacy within the home from unwarranted and unreasonable government intrusion. To hold that there has been a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a court must find that there was government action, that there was in fact a search or seizure, and that the search or seizure was unreasonable. As the first two elements are not at issue in this case, this Note will focus on the third requirement.

A search or seizure can be unreasonable in a number of ways, with perhaps the most obvious being a warrantless search without probable cause. (15) Even with a warrant, however, a search can still be unreasonable. In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, (403 U.S. 388) the Supreme Court stated in a footnote that the Fourth Amendment requires that an officer executing a search warrant stay strictly within the bounds set by the warrant. (403 U.S, 394)

Five years later in Andresen v. Maryland, (427 U.S., 463) the Court warned that responsible officials must assure that searches and seizures "are conducted in a manner that minimizes unwarranted intrusions into privacy." (427 U.S., 482) Thus, the Court began to make clear the proposition that a warrant alone would not suffice to make an intrusion into the privacy of a home reasonable. In Arizona v. Hicks, (480 U.S., 321) the Court held that police actions in the execution of a warrant must be related to the objectives of the authorized intrusion.

Similarly, in Horton v. California, the Court held that "[I]f the scope of the search exceeds that permitted by the terms of a validly issued warrant or the character of the relevant exception from the warrant requirement, the subsequent seizure is unconstitutional without more."(496 U.S. 140)

Thus, unless otherwise specified by the warrant, police officers may not allow third parties to enter a home if the officers do not need third-party assistance. Such an action would be unrelated to the objectives of the authorized intrusion and would therefore be in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Bills v. Aseltine, (958 F.2d, 697) which was decided only five weeks before the events at issue in Layne occurred, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that law enforcement officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they allowed a security guard to enter the plaintiff\'s home to perform a search that was not authorized by the search warrant. The warrant at issue authorized a search for narcotics only and the security guard was not present for the purposes of aiding in this search. Significantly, the holding in Bills finds support in a federal statute which details the persons authorized to serve a search warrant. That statute, under the heading "Persons authorized to serve search warrant," provides:

A search warrant may in all cases be served by any of the officers mentioned in its direction or by an officer authorized by law to serve such warrant, but by no other person, except in aid of the officer on his requiring it, he being present and