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The IVth Amendment to the American Constitution states that the people shall be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures and that no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause (1788)

James McClellan in Liberty, Order, and Justice (2000) comments on each of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which make up what is known as the Bill of Rights. Here is the IVth:

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.

[Amendment IV.]

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 Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure


This is a requirement for search warrants when the public authority decides to search individuals or their houses, or to seize their property in connection with some legal action or investigation. In general, any search without a warrant is unreasonable. Under certain conditions, however, no warrant is necessary—as when the search is incidental to a lawful arrest.

Before engaging in a search, the police must appear before a magistrate and, under oath, prove that they have good cause to believe that a search should be made. The warrant must specify the place to be searched and the property to be seized. This requirement is an American version of the old English principle that “Every man’s house is his castle.” In recent decades, courts have extended the protections of this amendment to require warrants for the search and seizure of intangible property, such as conversations recorded through electronic eavesdropping.

About this Quotation:

The constitutional expert, James McClellan, provides a very useful commentary on the American Bill of Rights. He notes both the original intent of the authors as well as how courts in the modern era have interpreted and extended the laws to take into account technological and other changes. A nice connection here is that one of his academic positions in 1999 was as “James Bryce Visiting Fellow in American Studies” at the Institute of United States Studies of the University of London. James Bryce’s work on The American Commonwealth (1995) has been published by Liberty Fund and we have other works by him in the OLL collection.

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