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Today is Constitution Day

 

The U.S. Constitution is arguably the most important legal document in the country. It is the originating source of all other laws through the Article VI Supremacy clause. It grants power to Congress to make additional laws, gives the President the authority to execute those laws and the Courts the power to interpret those laws.

 

The Constitution was amended almost immediately with the Bill of Rights, as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known, which enumerates specific protections for the people. The importance of the various amendments can be the subject of a spirited debate, with some arguing that the First Amendment, protecting the right of free speech, or the preventing the establishment of a state religion, is most important. Others claim it is the Second Amendment.

 

Within criminal law, the Fourth Amendment, protecting the people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government is one of the most powerful tools to shield the rights of the individual against the state. Without it, the police could randomly rifle through your home, collecting or planting evidence, whenever the whim struck them, and then use it to bring charges and obtain a conviction.

The core of the Fourth Amendment is the requirement that law enforcement has an individualized probable cause before obtaining a search warrant or seizing a person. This was to prevent the English practice of using "writs of assistance"which in essence allowed officers to search whatever and wherever they pleased, even in cases where there was little likelihood of criminal wrongdoing.

This type of power could be used to great mischief, could both harass the innocent and would allow "fishing expeditions," where authorities could search until they uncovered something that was damaging.

The Fourth Amendment has suffered much abuse since, but combined with the exclusionary rule, which prevents law enforcement from using illegally gathered evidence, remains one of the most important elements of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Source: mprnews.org, "On Constitution Day, the Founding Fathers weep," Bob Collins, September 17, 2015

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