Term Paper: American Government Politics

Pages: 10 (2631 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Arizona, stated that police could question an individual in custody, and could use psychological manipulation, only after they had "read the person his rights." And the Court spelled out exactly what was to be said:

You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney and to have your attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you.

Do you understand your rights?"

For the first time law enforcement had clear guidance concerning the area of confessions and knew what they could and could not do. Now what about search and seizures? During the last three decades, the Court has attempted to tackle this. One confusing area of the search and seizure law concerns the doctrines of consent and standing. When an individual confesses to a crime, he or she has given up the right to refuse to testify against themselves. The same applies to an individual who allows police to search his home. If permission for the search is granted, then there is no Constitutional violation. If three people are living in one house, they each have the right to consent to search. And if one roommate consents to a search, and another roommate is found to possess something illegal such as drugs, he or she has no foundation for complaint since permission for the search granted by the other roommate. Moreover, if police search John's house in violation of the Fourth Amendment and find evidence that Richard, who is not living in the house, is guilty of a crime, the evidence can be used against Richard and he has no legal foundation for complaint. Richard's rights were not violated, only John's. Only if the police tried to use the evidence against John would the exclusionary rule apply. The issues of consent and standing are complex and leaves questions such as whether or not the individual, "free of coercion by the police, consented to a search." Moreover, the issue of standing is confusing. A houseguest staying temporarily with a friend has standing to complain if a search of the house is granted while he or she is a guest there, but not when they are no longer a guest.

Although the United States Supreme Court has diffused much of the confusion concerning the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, none of the decisions comprise a uniform code. While the Supreme Court has decided what the Fourth requires, each state has a constitution interpreted by the state's court. In other words, citizens in different states have rights "beyond those recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court," thus, there can never be a uniform code of criminal procedure because every citizen is protected by two set of rights, one federal and one state.

These two sets of rights have often given cause for one to wonder if this is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended. Take for instance the case of Gail Atwater. Atwater was stopped by a Lago Vista, Texas police officer for failing to have her children buckled in seatbelts. Atwater was arrested, handcuffed, threatened to have her two children taken into custody, had her truck searched and towed and jailed with a $310 bond. The seatbelt violation was a $50 misdemeanor. Atwater was seeking the right to sue the police department, however, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4, finding the actions by the officer were constitutional and that although Atwater may have suffered from "pointless indignity and gratuitous humiliations" by the officer, his actions did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights. Did the court fear it being flooded with cases of unwarranted searches and seizures or was did the police officer truly not violate Atwater's rights?

Although, the Bill of Rights and particularly the Fourth Amendment have remained an issue of debate throughout the decades, never perhaps has there been such concern by citizens as since September 11, 2001. Since the terrorists' attacks on the World Trade Center which prompt the formation of the office of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, private citizens, civil rights groups and legal authorities have expressed concern regarding what they fear is a threat to individual rights. In March 2003, the Supreme Court dismissed a preliminary challenge to the "government's expanded powers to wiretap and search people who are suspected of having links to foreign terrorists." The American Civil Liberties Union were refused an appeal on behalf of Arab-Americans and others who suspect they might be secretly monitored.. Ann Beeson, an ACLU lawyer representing the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says, "This is a strange situation where you have a broad ruling and no one can appeal it."

In 2002, in a closed door hearing at the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft won legal authority to combine the FBI's crime-fighting and spying units to track suspected terrorists.

Until that time, a 'wall' had been maintained by the FBI, keeping spying operations separate from ordinary criminal probes. However, now civil libertarians protest that the government may be violating the Constitution's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures." Beeson says, "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was supposed to apply to a narrow category of intelligence investigations. Under Ashcroft's interpretation, they can use FISA in ordinary criminal cases."

Although many feel American rights might be being trampled upon due to new reforms, many European countries have passes anti-terrorism measures during the last year that are far more sweeping than anything the U.S. has adopted. Police in France can now search private property with a warrant and Germany now engages in religious profiling of suspected terrorists. In Britain, Parliament passed an anti-terrorism law that "authorizes a central government authority to record and store all communications data generated by email, Internet browsing or other electronic communications, and to make the data available to law enforcement without a court order."

Such actions in Europe cause the average American citizen to cringe and give thanks for the Untied States' Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, protecting each citizens' right to privacy.

Works Cited

Civil Rights Reduced." Denver Rocky Mountain News. April 28, 2001.

McWhirter, Darien A. Search, Seizure, and Privacy: Exploring the Constitution.

Greenwood Publishing Group. October 1994.

Rosen, Jeffrey. " Liberty Wins - So Far; Bush Runs Into Checks and Balances in Demanding New Powers." The Washington Post. September 15, 2002.

Savage, David G. "Court stiff-arms privacy challenge." Los Angeles Times. March 25

McWhirter, Darien A. Search, Seizure, and Privacy: Exploring the Constitution.

Greenwood Publishing Group. October 1994.

Civil Rights Reduced." Denver Rocky Mountain News. April 28, 2001.

Savage, David G. "Court stiff-arms privacy challenge." Los Angeles Times. March 25

Rosen, Jeffrey. "… [END OF PREVIEW]

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