Angry New Yorker

Monday, April 07, 2003
Older entries - April 26, 2001
Goodbye Fourth Amendment. Hello police state.
In a 5-to-4 decision this past Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave a major blow to the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which reads in its entirety:

"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."

The case in question is ATWATER et al. v. CITY OF LAGO VISTA etal. in which Ms. Atwater, a resident of Lago Vista, Texas, was stopped by a local policemen for not having seat belts on her children, a misdeamonor punishable by a $50 fine in Texas. The officer berated her, and then arrested her, handcuffing her and putting her into the police car. The children would have been taken to the police station as well had neighbors not come out to care for them. The car was towed and impounded.

Atwater had her mug shot taken and was placed alone, in a jail cell for about an hour, after which she was taken before a magistrate and released on bond. She was charged with, among other things, violating the seatbelt law. She pleaded no contest to the seatbelt misdemeanors and paid a $50 fine.

Atwater sued, stating that the police should not have arrested her for a law whose penalty is only punishable by a fine. The Supreme Court argued, in what I think will be recognized a milestone in the erosion of our rights, that "The Fourth Amendment does not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine."

Do they really believe this? Or realize what this means out in the real world? The four dissenting justices, Justice OConnor, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer joined, certainly did. The police can now stop your car for any minor infraction and then arrest you, and search you and your car. The fourth amendment is dead, my fellow citizens.

The dissenting justices, in a strongly worded opinion, stated:

"The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court recognizes that the arrest of Gail Atwater was a pointless indignity that served no discernible state interest, and yet holds that her arrest was constitutionally permissible. A full custodial arrest, such as the one to which Ms. Atwater was subjected, is the quintessential seizure.... But instead of remedying this imbalance, the majority allows itself to be swayed by the worry that every discretionary judgment in the field [will] be converted into an occasion for constitutional review. It there-
fore mints a new rule that if an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender. This rule is not only unsupported by our precedent, but runs contrary to the principles that lie at the core of the Fourth Amendment.... Although the Fourth Amendment expressly requires that the latter course be a reasonable and proportional response to the circumstances of the offense, the majority gives officers unfettered discretion to choose that course without articulating a single reason why such action is appropriate. ... The Court neglects the Fourth Amendments express command in the name of administrative ease. In so doing, it cloaks the pointless indignity that Gail Atwater suffered with the mantle of reasonableness. I respectfully dissent "

And there you have it, folks. Circle April 24, 2001 on your calendars.
That's the date of the official passing of the fourth amendment as we
know it.

Posted by Rich Santalesa on 4/26/01; 1:25:20 AM

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