Politics dictionary

4th Amendment

or Fourth Amendment [fohrth uh-mend-muh nt]  

What does 4th Amendment mean?

The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution protects US citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It also requires a warrant and probable cause in the event of searches and seizures.

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Related words

First Amendment, 10th Amendment, plead the fifth, Prohibition, 4th Amendment

Where does 4th Amendment come from?

4th Amendment

The 4th Amendment is the 4th of 10 Constitutional amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, officially added to the US Constitution in 1791 after it was ratified in 1788. Amendments are changes or additions to the original Constitution.

The Bill of Rights served as a crucial concession to those who refused to sign the US Constitution. The Constitution was drafted in 1787 and needed to be ratified by 9 of the original 13 states to become the law of the land. However, not enough of the then-13 states were initially willing to adopt it, and so a promise to amend it to include clear statements of the people’s rights helped it pass.


What does the 4th Amendment say … here you go:

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.


Examples of 4th Amendment

Be like Aaron Tobey, who also stripped down in front of the TSA and was charged with disorderly conduct. Tobey had the fourth amendment written on his chest and the charges were eventually dropped.
Rhett Jones, Gizmodo, May, 2017
The ACLU is not involved in the case, but McCoy said while courts have ruled that students in school have weaker fourth amendment rights than the average citizen in the interest of school safety, this situation appears to have been particularly invasive.
Madeline Schmitt, KRQE News 13, April, 2017
But what does the Constitution require when the police violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights and discover incriminating evidence hidden in a bedroom or inside the trunk of a car? There’s no easy answer.
Tracey Maclin, The Supreme Court and the Fourth Amendment's Exclusionary Rule, 2012

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Who uses 4th Amendment?

“Unreasonable searches” has been interpreted to include not only physical searches but wiretaps and surveillance, and “probable cause” has come to include arbitrary arrest. The amendment helps lays the foundation for privacy laws and protections, which are sometimes called 4th Amendment freedoms or rights.

Because its short and a little vague, the government relies on the Supreme Court to interpret the 4th Amendment, as it does other aspects of the Constitution and US law. For instance, the court ruled that searches and seizures inside a home were reasonable if the items were in plain view, and that students could be searched by school authorities without a warrant provided the circumstances were reasonable.


The growth of technology has provided new challenges in interpreting the 4th Amendment and defining legal rights of privacy in the digital age. Some suggest that the rights provided by the 4th Amendment have been weakened. For instance, your digital purchasing history may not count as protected private information, since it is already shared with credit card companies and banks, and therefore may not require a warrant. However, these issues don’t always fall the same way; in 2014, it was ruled that police do need a warrant to search cell phones found on people when arrested.


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