How Did the Revolutionary War Lead to the Creation of the Fourth Amendment?

Fourth AmendmentAnybody who has ever watched a television procedural or seen a movie in which police are investigating a crime is familiar with search warrants and due process.

You may think that search and seizure laws are a recent development that’s evolved over years of lawsuits and appeals, they have their roots in the birth of our nation during the Revolutionary War and were codified in 1791 as the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The Fourth Amendment reads as follows:

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.”

So why was a law that is heavily relied upon in the 21st century written back in the late 18th century? How can the same search and seizure issues faced by defendants in modern days be the ones that were of primary concern as our nation was formed?

To understand how this happened, you need to remember that the United States began as a colony belonging to England and that King George viewed the new colonies as his personal piggy bank. Through numerous decrees and acts he dipped into almost every financial transaction that took place, and in response, the colonists started smuggling and hiding their financial activities.

To make sure that he was collecting every penny that he believed himself entitled to, the king used what he called “writs of assistance” that allowed his representatives to enter homes on a whim, and with no notice. Anger over these actions was a big part of the anger that ended up fueling the revolution.

Years later, after the United States was an independent nation writing its own laws, the founders remembered their outrage at the egregious searches and seizures and wrote the Fourth Amendment to prevent it from happening to America’s citizenry. The law is one of our most powerful and is often the grounds for criminal charges being dropped or illegally collected evidence being excluded at trial.

If you have been charged with a crime and you believe that your rights of due process have been violated, contact our office at your earliest convenience to discuss how we can help.