The danger of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear. It states that the people have a right to be “secure” from unreasonable searches and seizures. It says this right “shall not be violated.” The word “shall” is important. Shall in English is known as an “imperative,” and in law, anytime shall is used, it means there is no discretion in whether or not something should apply.

The Fourth Amendment also demands that when the police want to search or seize a person, they must use a warrant, issued by a judge upon a showing of probable cause. However, the world is a complex place, and courts have determined that there are some exceptions to this warrant requirement.


The Tennessee Supreme Court heard a case last week that could expand those exceptions. The case involves a woman who was charged with a DUI after a car crash resulted in the deaths of two of her passengers.

A blood test was performed without a warrant, which at the time was not required. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that because blood draws are particularly invasive, a warrant is required.

The problem with exceptions to the Fourth Amendment is that it makes the administration of justice more complex. If Tennessee permits this “good faith” exception, it means courts will have to examine individual cases whenever the police violate the Fourth Amendment and illegally obtain evidence to determine if there was “good faith.”

By restricting exceptions, the court could better protect the people from illegal searches and seizures. If police know they must obtain a warrant, it limits the opportunity for the police to push the limits and violate the Fourth Amendment. Not creating unnecessary exceptions also guarantees that the exception will not swallow the rule.

Source:, “Tenn. court considers Fourth Amendment exception,” Stacey Barchenger, October 1, 2015

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