Although other parts of the U.S. Constitution tend to get bigger headlines, several court rulings in the past year have upheld the rights of Texans to simply be left alone by police unless authorities have a very strong reason to act.
In many unexpected and sometimes surprising ways, the Fourth Amendment comes to the defense of citizens charged with crimes or otherwise messed with by police.
Americans promised safety from unreasonable police action
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Since the nation’s founding, the government, ordinary citizens and their attorneys have met before the courts to test what counts as a “reasonable” limit to this promise.
If you are charged with anything, from a minor infraction or the most serious crime, a review of your case through the lens of your Fourth Amendment rights is often the first step in your defense.
Excessive use of force again ruled unconstitutional in Texas
This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on a case in which two deputies responded to a call for reported domestic violence.
They found a man with a knife acting erratically. With the man 10 yards from them and clearly trying to surrender, they shot and killed him.
Although the deputies claimed the man posed an immediate threat to the officers, the man’s family argued that the Fourth Amendment should have protected their loved one against the police use of excessive force.
Deciding in favor of the family, the Court of Appeals ruled that, “A reasonable officer would have understood that using deadly force … would violate the Fourth Amendment.”
Man arrested for trespassing on public property
In November, a freelance photographer won a lawsuit when a court awarded him $345,000 for interference with his Fourth Amendment rights.
A regular chronicler of Dallas nightlife, he was photographing police and paramedics as they gave a man medical treatment.
An officer from Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) told the photographer to leave the DART stop. When he refused, the officer arrested him for trespassing, although he was on public property and not interfering with the work of authorities.
The court ultimately found that the Fourth Amendment should have protected him against being unreasonably arrested.