The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution defines the right of people not to be unreasonably searched or seized and that no warrants can be issued except by probable cause. This summation of the Fourth Amendment and the historical basis of the search warrant law began during the Colonial era.
Warrant laws have an early history which started in Britain. Even though British citizens had the right to defend their homes, British agents had been given authority to enter and arrest or execute an individual within a home to enforce the King’s orders. Once England had established colonies in America search and seizure laws were enacted because of the smuggling of prohibited goods.
Lifelong writs (authoritative court documents) were given to English agents within the colonies to search property for illegal contraband. These writs were not welcomed within the colonial communities and by 1760 opposition grew against these documents. James Otis, a Plymouth lawyer, influenced the Colonists to reject these writs because they infringed upon the liberties of the people.
Words of Influence
John Adams, a famous early American revolutionary, used James Otis’s influence to claim that the unjust writs were a cause for independence from England. Many did not agree with his ideas at first but this situation changed when more legal issues were being raised by the colonist and their rights. Before long the American colonies were fighting a war of independence from British rule.
Bill of Rights
After the Revolutionary War, America was an independent country in need of a government. The Constitution was established by Framers and some of them wanted to outline the rights of the people. Others did not think it was necessary. Recent memories of war and the causes which led to it influenced the American people to form a Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment is a natural liberty contained within the Bill of Rights. This particular right was a part of the Constitution which guaranteed the early Americans that agents no longer would be able to unjustly search their homes without the proper authority (warrant) and proper cause. Adopted into the Constitution in 1791, the Bill of Rights became the law of the land.