Fourth Amendment Right Reaffirmed By The United State Supreme Court (USSC)

Fourth Amendment Right Reaffirmed By The United State Supreme Court (USSC)

The Unites States Supreme Court (USSC) recently reinforced one of the most important rights we have: The 4th amendment right to be free from warrantless search and seizure.


The United States Constitution, sometime referred to as the Federal Constitution, creates a basic level of rights and freedoms that applies as a minimum standard in each state, but what many people don't know is that some states have a more protective State Constitution, such as Washington. Every state has their own Constitution — most simply adopt the Federal one — and when these kinds of decisions are issued by the USSC, the application of the law is the same as that required by the USSC. 

When a State has adopted the same Federal Standards ALL levels of the State’s Court MUST follow it. In the case Lange v. California, all levels of California State courts denied the motion to dismiss the case for unlawful search and seizure, but now that the USSC has ruled the case — the conviction of Defendant Lange — is now vacated. The matter was returned to the State Court and likely will be dismissed.

Likewise, other States with a State Constitution must follow this precedent if and when they get a similar set of facts.  

What about States like Washington where our State Constitutions does indeed adopt the Federal Constitution but in many instances adds language that is more protective of these rights—in this case "Unreasonable" Search and Seizure? The difference in State Constitutions, such as Washington's, is because of the addition of the words, "without lawful authority."

Traditionally the USSC has interpreted the word "unreasonable" to mean that a warrant is required in order to protected the citizens from Unreasonable Search and Seizure, but all too frequently unreasonable gives way to what is described as a "pressing and substantial need." However, in Washington the extra language does not give way to such pressing and substantial need because such needs never outweighs "lawful authority."

An example of this is DUI Roadblocks. A roadblock is a search and seizure of citizens without a warrant and without and individualized suspicion of a single vehicle to justify the seizure. As such they are Unconstitutional in Washington State, because the "authority of law," is lacking. Before a driver can be seized in this state the police must have a legal basis to do, such as seeing a traffic law violation.   

In a State where the Constitution mirrors the Federal Constitution the fight against Drunk Drivers is seen as a "pressing and substantial" need, and therefore the DUI roadblock that temporarily searches seized motorists is a mere inconvenience to the motoring public. And while it is warrantless, it is not interpreted as being "unreasonable" in light of the need to catch drivers that are suspected of DUI. So the seizure in the form of a roadblock is legal when the Constitutional language is merely "unreasonable."  

With that backdrop the Court's analysis of this case that involved the apprehension of a driver who was ultimately arrested for DUI is a refreshing change from the legal gymnastics that courts engage in when dealing with DUI cases, thus justifying what are in other subject matters—unreasonable and unlawful search and seizure.

This set of facts in Washington State is unlikely to have passed "mustard" because of the more protective language, but even so, when the USSC issues these kinds of decisions, it’s nice to see what is "reasonable" because the minimum standards apply in every state, and a citizen need not reply on the extra protection afforded when the facts are similar in their home State.