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Policing - Protecting Civil Liberties

court police rights supreme

During the 1960s police also saw increased restrictions on their activities. Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 requiring warrants for any kind of electronic eavesdropping (like tapping someone's phone to listen in on conversations). The U.S. Supreme Court under Justice Earl Warren (1891–1974) made several landmark decisions between 1961 and 1966 affirming the rights of suspects to be advised of their rights before questioning (Miranda Rights) and to prevent police from illegal searches and the seizure of a suspect's property without proper cause and the necessary court-approved documents (the exclusionary rule).

The Supreme Court expanded a much earlier decision issued in 1914 about search and seizure rules. Until 1914 search and seizure was handled more through a trespassing law rather than as a constitutional protection. But in Weeks v. U.S. (1914), the Court ruled that any evidence obtained in violation of a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights could not be used as evidence against him or her in court proceedings and must be excluded.

In short, the "exclusionary rule" states that evidence obtained illegally by the police cannot be used in a court of law. Since the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government and federal law officers, however, evidence gained illegally by state or local police could still be used in a federal court. Supreme Court Justice Warren extended the exclusionary rule to include search and seizures by state and local police in addition to federal authorities.

The Fifth Amendment provided the basis for Miranda Rights, established in a 1966 Supreme Court ruling. According to the decision, police must advise people being arrested that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them, they have a right to a lawyer, and that a lawyer will be provided if they cannot afford one. Many foreign countries have adopted some form of the Miranda Rights.

Despite the increased police patrols and presence through the late 1960s and early 1970s the crime rate stayed high. Police considered the restrictions on their tactics by the Supreme Court a major problem. Many criminologists attributed the high crime rates to the number of seventeen to thirty-four-year-olds in the population at the time.


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