One of the hallmarks of every free and democratic society is the enjoyment by the people of their right to privacy. An example of the right to privacy is that which is protected and guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, searches and seizures to be valid must comply with the requirement of “reasonableness”. In case this requirement is not complied with then any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment shall be declared inadmissible in any court of law pursuant to the Exclusionary Rule.
One concrete example of the right against unreasonable search is when a police officer squeezes the luggage of a bus passenger in search for drugs. In the case of Bond v. United States, 529 US 334, Bond was a bus passenger when a border patrol agent boarded his bus to check on the immigration status of the passengers. While checking the immigration status of the passengers, the patrol agent it squeezed Bond’s bag and felt an object inside it. When asked, Bond allowed the agent to open it. The agent discovered methamphetamine inside his bag.
In this case, the court ruled that the two part-test established under Katz v. United States to make a search valid for purposes of the Fourth Amendment not complied with: a) governmental action must contravene an individual’s actual and subjective expectation of privacy; (2) and that expectation of privacy must be reasonable in the sense that society in general would recognize it as such. First, Bond had a reasonable expectation of privacy over his personal belongings and this is manifested by the fact that he brought with him an opaque bag that was placed over his seat.
Secondly, the society in general recognizes that such expectation of privacy is reasonable. Although there is the expectation that the said luggage will be handled by other passengers of bus employees, there is no expectation that the luggage will be physically manipulated in an exploratory manner as what the patrol agent conducted in this case. The ruling in this case is particularly important for the protection of the people who are in public vehicles.
It bears stressing that the privacy of a person is not limited only to his house, his office, his garage but this right extends even to his personal belongings. Mail Searches The same protection of the right to privacy extends to first-class letters and sealed packages. The rule is that in the absence of any probable cause that will lead police and postal authorities to conclude that there may be illegal contraband inside letters or packages they do not have any authority to inspect and open them for the purpose of searching for any illegal item.
The case of United States v. Van Leeuwen is instructive. Even if there is probable cause to believe that there is an illegal contraband inside the letters or packages the same still does not authorize police and postal authorities to open them. Their authority is limited to the right to detain them for a reasonable time sufficient to obtain the required search warrant. It is only when the search warrant is obtained that they may open these letters and packages. The idea behind this principle is simple.
The right to privacy and the right against unreasonable search and seizure are so important that suspicions for an illegal contraband inside the letters and packages do not suffice. There is also no justification for police and postal authorities to immediately open these letters and packages since the letters and packages are within their full control which gives them sufficient time to wait until search warrant is secured. Searches and Seizures by Private Persons
One limitation of the provisions under the Fourth Amendment is that it extends only to privacy intrusions committed by government agencies and officers. Searches and seizures made by private individuals even if they violate the Fourth Amendment are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. The reason is simple. At the time the Fourth Amendment was included in the US Constitution that same was intended to guard against the potential abuses that government authorities may commit against private individuals.
Historically speaking, the Fourth Amendment was originally designed as a response to the controversial writs of assistance that was prevalent before the American Revolution. (“Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution”) It seeks to limit the power of government authorities and to protect the privacy rights of the people. Thus, considering that private individuals are on equal footing the framers thought that there was no reason to expand the scope of the Fourth Amendment and include therein private individuals.
Thus, evidence obtained by private individuals in the course of an unlawful search provided they acted purely on their own and the police did not encourage nor participate in the private search and seizure is admissible. In the first example, if the discovery of methamphetamine was made by an employee of the bus company tasked to conduct routine inspections and searches, then the same does not constitute unreasonable search and the evidence obtained is admissible in court.