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Search and Seizure - Fourth Amendment Protections

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Many issues in criminal procedure have complicated roots, and though the questions surrounding the issue of search and seizure are themselves complex, the Constitution's primary regulations regarding it can be found in a single amendment, the Fourth. The amendment states 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."

The wording of the Fourth Amendment may seem fairly straightforward, but it has given rise to endless debate about such key issues as the exact definition of probable cause. Nor does it address the myriad other questions which arise in the ordinary course of law enforcement: does the law officer have to obtain the warrant before the arrest? What if this makes it impossible to catch the suspect, who might have a chance to flee while the officer is busy obtaining a warrant? What if the officer sees something without even having to search--for example, he or she stops someone for speeding and notices a bag of cocaine sitting on the passenger seat? What happens to evidence obtained by less-than-legal means? These are some questions that have been addressed in cases testing the Fourth Amendment; likewise changes in society and technology have required examination of issues such as automobile searches, mandatory drug testing, and electronic wiretapping.

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