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.
This one applies though – boy does it EVER apply. This amendment is one of the most heavily disputed, with people lawyering on all sides to gain more control. Every individual word, apparently, needs to be defined before we know what our Founders were talking about (at least, according to most), but I think that – again – the public record speaks volumes for the intent.
As before, I think that the best way to approach this Amendment is by seeing what the Founders were dealing with at the time. What were they dealing with? An unreasonable government issuing unreasonable warrants so they could snoop for “unknown” crimes. The Writ of Assistance was something that Britain had come up with as a means of leveraging pressure against the colonists. Now, the colonists – they couldn’t understand why the British cared so much about what was happening on the other side of the pond, all they knew was that their privacy was being violated on a regular basis by people who didn’t have any fucking business looking.
Their resolution? The Fourth Amendment. One of the more brilliant pieces of legislation, and all it does is establish that what you SAY, what you WRITE, and what you OWN is, in no uncertain terms: YOURS. Of course, our founders weren’t completely retarded either – they realized that someone can commit a crime and hide the evidence. That’s why they added the bit about a proper warrant being required…one which details the alleged crime, and what they expect to find if the warrant is granted. There isn’t much ambiguity here, and the intent I believe is self-evident – they didn’t want anyone evaluating them for secret or hidden crimes…if a crime has been committed, should that not be evident?
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Most people recognize this amendment from cop shows when people say they’re pleading (or taking) “the fifth”. Under those circumstances, they’re only talking about the last little bit (“nor compelled….to be a witness against himself”), but there’s really a whole lot more happening here. This is the same amendment that ensures that we can’t be arrested for “secret” crimes, that we can’t be tried for the same offense twice, and it prevents the government from taking your stuff without proving they’re entitled to it (ie – when you’ve broken the law and they’ve proven that you’ve done so, they may appropriate your “stuff” to make reparations or pay fines).
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
While we’re on the topic of legal rights, we may as well discuss the 6th amendment (and hey, it’s the next in order, who’da thunkit?) I almost never see this one pop up in the news or on TV, although we’re all pretty familiar with it’s contents. Essentially, this Amendment is guaranteeing that we won’t be locked up in prison for years or decades before our case is brought to trial, where if we would like a jury we can have one. You also have the right to be confronted by your witnesses – to know who they are and what you’re being accused of. This is also the part that guarantees you a lawyer, for what good it will do you.
As I mentioned, you never really hear about the 6th Amendment, but for the last 12 years or so we should have been. See, in Guantanamo we have prisoners that have not been accused of an actual crime, have been locked up for years without a trial (and without charges). Again I need to refer you back to page one of this essay, where we addressed the purpose of the Bill of Rights: To enumerate human rights. The last time I checked, people from other nations (and religions, and colours, etc) are still human beings. Why are Guantanamo’s detainees rights being denied? Because they’ve been secretly accused of secret crimes. We’ll never find out what crimes they’ve allegedly committed though…in order for us to learn that, there would have to be a trial. Our own Constitution enforces a speedy trial. I don’t consider over a decade to be ‘speedy’ for anything short of Evolution.
Don’t misunderstand my words: What happened in New York on 9/11/01 was an awful horrible tragedy. One that I would hope is never repeated. If these detainees are actually guilty of a crime, should it take us more than 10 years to prosecute? If not, why exactly are they locked up?
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
This one kind of reinforces the “double-jeopardy” amendment above, but more specifically ensures that we have the right to a trial by our peers. The wording here (as with the rest of the Bill of Rights) was selected very carefully. 200+ years ago (much like in many parts of the world today), ‘status’ was something that people took very seriously. Our Founders recognized that being born into a particular family or performing a specific job function didn’t automatically make you guilty of whatever crime you’re being charged with. Recognizing that your peers were more likely to understand your situation allowed our founders to implement a system that was harder to abuse by the upper classes. (Are you seeing any patterns yet? I sure am…)