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Search and Seizure: Crash Course Government and Politics #27


Hi, I’m Craig, and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics, and today, we’re gonna continue our discussion of the Bill of Rights, and
talk about something that may actually be useful to you. We’re gonna talk about when
the police are allowed to search your house, your car, and even you. But not me. I have
immunity. I’m on YouTube. Right, is that how it works, Stan? It’s not how it works? I’m
in trouble. You might think that this only matters if
you are, you know, a criminal, and if you are, then you should be paying close attention,
but even if you haven’t committed any crimes and you are unlucky enough to be stopped by
the police, these protections apply. [Theme Music] The question of when and where and how the
police can conduct a search falls under the general topic of Criminal Procedure. In this
case, the second word is important. The courts usually look at how the police are acting,
and the protections courts have supported are primarily procedural. What this means
is that there is no unlimited, sometimes called substantive, right to have the police not
search you or your home. The criminal procedure civil liberties are found in the Fourth, Fifth,
and Sixth amendments, but today we’re only gonna look at the Fourth amendment, which
reads, “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.” You can see right away
that this is not an absolute right. The framers made sure that we are only protected from
unreasonable searches and seizures, and they added that the police are supposed to get
a warrant before they search you. Let’s start with the warrant requirement,
because it’s kinda confusing. A search warrant is a piece of paper issued by a judge, authorizing
law enforcement officers to search something, usually your house, but possibly your car
or your person or your desk eagle. I’m not hiding anything in there. What? According
to the Fourth Amendment, for the police to get a judge to issue a warrant, they must
have probable cause, which is more than just a suspicion or an anonymous tip, although
sometimes judges will issue warrants on pretty flimsy probably cause. When they are issued,
warrants are supposed to be specific, laying out what the police are searching for and
where they expect to find it. This means that if the warrant says the police can search
your garage for a stolen car, they can’t look in your kitchen drawers and cupboards, because
A, the warrant says they can search your garage and B, they’re looking for a car, and you
can’t hide a car in your kitchen drawers, unless it’s a very small car. I drive a Prius,
which is pretty small, but it doesn’t fit in my kitchen drawers. I’ve tried. Even when
I take the whisk out. You’ll notice that I qualified my statement
about warrants. You do this a lot when you’re talking about criminal procedure. I said,
“When they are issued,” despite the fact that the Fourth Amendment seems to say that the
police always need a warrant, the courts have ruled that it is not always required for the
police to engage in a reasonable search. What this means is that if the police have probable
cause to search you, say, they catch you pocketing powdered donuts in the grocery store, they
don’t always need to go to the judge to search you. What makes a reasonable search is a question
that the courts have wrestled with. Sometimes, like with a stolen car in the kitchen cabinet,
it’s pretty obvious. But many times it isn’t. For example, if the warrant allows the police
to search your kitchen for illegal hand grenades and they look in your freezer and find illegal
drugs instead, that’s probably reasonable, because freezers are where most people store
their illegal hand grenades, and also their drugs, and if the police stop you for speeding,
which is a violation of traffic laws, also known as a crime, and then search your car
and find a dead body in the trunk, the courts have ruled that this is reasonable, too. It’s
important to realize that the warrant and reasonableness requirements are not meant
to prevent the police from stopping criminals caught in the act. If the police, after chasing
a masked man carrying a bag with a dollar sign on it running away from a bank that has
just been reported robbed by a man with a gun and mask manage to catch him, they don’t
need an arrest warrant to take him into custody, and because the running away and the bag of
money are pretty suggestive, the police will have probable cause to search the guy, who
in my mind, looks like the Hamburglar for the gun. And the question is, can they use
the gun as evidence? Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. One of the
most important Supreme Court cases dealing with searches and seizures is Mapp v. Ohio,
decided in 1961. The facts of the case are pretty wild. The police went to the home of
Dollree Mapp to search for explosives and gambling equipment. They didn’t have a warrant,
so she didn’t let them in. They came back a bit later with a fake warrant and searched
the house. They didn’t find explosives or gambling equipment, but they did find a trunk
full of pornography, which was illegal at the time, so they arrested her. The main evidence
against her, naturally, was the pornography, but the cops’ probable cause was to search
for explosives. The Court ruled that the evidence had been seized through an illegal search.
There was no warrant, and even if there had been one, it probably wouldn’t have included
the trunk in which they found the porn. More important, they ruled that this evidence and
any evidence seized pursuant to an illegal search cannot be used against a defendant
in a trial. This is called an exclusionary rule, unlawfully obtained evidence is excluded
from the trial, and it’s sometimes called the “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree,” possibly
because lawyers are better at naming things than historians are. This is incredibly important,
especially for cop shows on TV, but also for you if you happen to have your home searched
illegally and the police find evidence of criminal activity. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So it seems like there are some pretty strong
protections against the police searching your home because of Mapp, but there are also plenty of
exceptions, and no, we’re not talking about the Mongols. [Mongoltage] Many of these exceptions involve your car.
In general, the courts have been very lenient when police search your car, probably because
very often, when they pull you over, it’s because of some kind of moving violation,
like speeding, which can be probable cause, especially if they think you might be speeding
away from a crime. The court decisions on this issue are really, really complicated,
but the general rule of thumb is that the police can usually search your car and you
if they pull you over, despite what Jay-Z may think. Another question that comes up
is random traffic stops to check for drunk driving. A breathalyzer is a type of search,
so it would seem that the police should have probable cause to stop you and check to see
if you’re drunk. But the Courts have ruled that drunk driving
checkpoints are okay, assuming they don’t disproportionately target people of a specific
race, but that’s for another episode. While we’re talking about cars and specific groups
of people, I should probably add that there’s one group of people who don’t have the same
protections against searches: students. Students often think that it’s not okay for school
officials to search their lockers or their bookbags, but those students are wrong. Most
students go to public schools, where the officials are mostly government workers, and are subject
to the Bill of Rights. The Courts have ruled that students don’t have the same protections
as other citizens, and that the interests of the state in keeping a safe, drug and weapon-free
educational environment trumps their privacy interest. Although there are limits to how
intrusive these searches can be. Drug tests for student athletes? Fine. Strip searches?
Not okay. And bee tee dubs, in the same way that a breathalyzer
test is a search, so is a drug test, or as they say in England, a drugs test, which is
probably a more accurate way to say it, because they usually test more than one drug. These
can seem pretty intrusive, but the Courts usually rule that they are okay, especially
where public safety is concerned. The state interest in drug-free schools is a pretty
strong one, but the cases on student drug tests are really interesting, especially when
they get into the issue of whether schools can test all students without probable cause,
or only specific groups, like athletes. If you’re really interested, you should look
these cases up, but why are you so interested? Maybe you should take a drug test.
Or a drugs test. So I’m gonna stop here before I get too deep
in the weeds about search and seizures and the Fourth Amendment. There are two important
things to remember. The first is that, like all the Constitutional protections of civil
liberties, it only applies to government agents. You have no Fourth Amendment protection against
your parents searching your room, unless your parents are police officers and they’re on
duty, and it’s like, official police business. The second thing to remember is that the protections
in the Fourth Amendment are far from absolute. The Amendment itself includes a reasonableness
standard, and what is reasonable as well as when warrants are necessary has been, and
continues to be, determined by the Courts. In this case, as with most civil liberties
cases, the Court’s attempt to balance an individual’s interest in maintaining her privacy against
the state’s interest in preventing crime and keeping citizens safe. It’s not an easy balance,
but that’s what makes the issue complex and interesting, at least to us here at Crash
Course, because we’re complex and interesting. Right, Stan? Thanks for watching. See ya next time. Crash
Course Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support
for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use
technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives
at Voqal.org. Crash Course was made with the help of these complex and interesting people.
Thanks for watching.

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