Raping the Fourth Amendment

by Audrey Dusart, SUNY Cortland, December 23, 2004

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The Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..."(1), however, the ability to distort the rights of Americans leads to no rights at all. As American citizens, we are given rights. These rights, as long as we are Americans, should not under any circumstance be taken away from us. But, a look at “the war on drugs” will show any American citizen that our rights are violated every day. 

The war on drugs was first given life by President Ronald Reagan. During Reagan’s presidency, we made the decision to turn America into a battleground where no man was considered innocent. “Reagan's policies in the "War on Drugs" emphasized imprisonment for drug offenders and raised public awareness to the dangers of drug use,” (2). But are the “dangers of drug use” as dangerous as the violation of the Bill of Rights? Houses belonging to American citizens supposedly protected under the Fourth Amendment are searched without warning or warrant and school lockers can also be searched under little or no suspicion. One young man was strip searched because his teacher thought he was “too well endowed.” Perhaps surprising to them, the search for any illegal substances on this young man turned up to be negative. Such acts of public humiliation have arisen due to the “war on drugs.” Even before a person is suspected of drug use or drug paraphernalia, many different jobs will test their future employees. What does this say about our rights as American citizens? The wall that separates the government from its citizens is crumbling.  The evil hand of the government is raping us of our rights.

“Civil Asset Forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement seizing and keeping money, property, and other assets which they suspect may have come from illegal profits - such as drug sales. Civil asset forfeiture often takes place without proof of the origins of the asset and without a conviction of anyone for wrongdoing” (3). The Fourth Amendment is supposed to allow us to have privacy in our lives—a privacy that is not to be disturbed by unwanted persons or things. A Chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court once said of our rights, “If the zeal to eliminate drugs leads this state and nation to forsake its ancient heritage of constitutional liberty, then we will have suffered a far greater injury than drugs ever inflict up on us. Drugs injure some of us. The loss of liberty injures us all” (4). Our jails are filling up by the day with casual drug users. Real crimes like rape and murder are being set loose because there isn’t enough room in the jails to hold them.  Due to the extreme leniency that the government has to incarcerate drug users and sellers, the fourth amendment has been stripped of the protection it has offered its citizens. The United States has made it effortless for law enforcement officials to search, snoop, and use dogs to sniff and survey without a warrant or probable cause. So in our efforts to close our borders from drugs and protect future generations from the evils of drugs, our own country along with its constitution is crumbling; our rights as free American citizens are failing us.

We have fought for our rights and our freedom; now, however, that very freedom is knocking down our doors, strip-searching our children, filling our jails with worthless criminals, and creating a hypocritical democracy of our government. The crimes being committed now because drugs are illegal, include breaking and entering, theft, and the buying and selling of drugs in the black market, which I debate mentioning because I consider it to be such a stupidity on our government’s part to not allow people to buy and sell their own goods. (5) The most criminal acts of today are being committed by the very system that gave us our freedoms and protection of privacy. Protecting us from drugs results in the violation of our rights. The end does not justify the means. Breaking the Fourth Amendment in a search for drugs is more criminal than the crimes any drug could ever commit.

Politicians of America believe repression of the Bill of Rights is necessary to stop the drug problem in America. Civil servants have their right to privacy violated when they are asked to urinate into a cup for a drug test and in some cases they are video taped in order to insure that no swapping of urine cups occurs. When the Drug War began, the President made it known that we, as Americans, have “to do what is necessary to end the drug menace” (6). Right off the bat, American rights are being violated. “Doing what is necessary,” means violating the Fourth Amendment.  

Bill after bill was passed against the exclusionary rule. The government wanted to use evidence found at the scene of a crime during a trial, even if it was taken in violation of the Fourth Amendment. A fourteen-year old student was caught with marijuana when she was first caught smoking cigarettes in a school bathroom.  When her principal went through her purse, he discovered the marijuana and other paraphernalia, (7). This is just one of the many cases that shows how Americans today are suffering from violated rights. Though we, as Americans, are "protected" through the Fourth Amendment, in actuality often the Fourth Amendment doesn’t exist. We have made amendments to the Constitution in order to create a more free society—one with rights, but it seems as though the Amendments that were made are now being torn away from the skin revealing deep wounds in American lives. 

The Fourth Amendment is there for all of America; it is there to protect us. However, due to the government’s need to halt the influx of drugs into the country, the Fourth Amendment has almost been put to death. The threat that drugs are an evil against our society allowed government officials to search houses and properties of suspicious drug users and sellers. It was England that began violating the privacy of homes when they believed households were holding untaxed goods and weapons. The citizens however fled to the Americas in search of a land of freedom but what they got was another land where searches and seizures became commonplace. England didn’t like the idea of social disorder; therefore, the rights of citizens were few. Sound familiar? 

The United States is doing the exact same thing in the name of social order. However, social order is an idea that is constantly changing by those that have social power: the government. It is only those that have social power who are the ones that can change society. There must be an uprising of the middle and lower classes in order to make a change in the way the government is treating the Fourth Amendment. 

Government officials have sought out suspicious users and sellers, and have gone after people of upstanding credibility within their communities, such as doctors and lawyers and perhaps even law officials. Guilty of moderate and occasional usage of drugs has landed good people in bad places, has ripped families apart, and has destroyed futures. Without notice of warrant, police officials can search a house for illegal usage of drugs.  The ability to search without a warrant has landed many people in court because drugs were found on their property but were not the reason for the search in the first place. This impedes upon the rights of American citizens to their right of privacy. How can we expect to be protected against anything that we own or believe in if the government has the ability to bend our rights so far as to practically take them away from us whenever it feels fit? One article written by Harry Goslin, Beware Idiots, Madmen, and Lunatics, reads, “ 'Good' citizenship will never hold up as a defense against government thugs intent on imprisoning, killing, or taking property, all in the name of enforcing ‘the law’ ” (8). We must stand up and fight against the real evil. The government has not waged a war on drugs; it has waged a war on its people, and we, the people, must fight.

 

Sources:

1. & 3.

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DESIGNER: Greg Montano, New Media Design, SUNY Cortland, USA

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