This article is part of the series: United States Constitution
Articles of the Constitution I ∙ II ∙ III ∙ IV ∙ V ∙ VI ∙ VII
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Amendment IV (the Fourth Amendment) to the United States Constitution is one of the provisions included in the Bill of Rights. The Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, and was originally designed as a response to the controversial writs of assistance (a type of general search warrant), which were a significant factor behind the American Revolution.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that searches and seizures conducted under governmental authority be "reasonable". Toward that end, the amendment specifies that judicially sanctioned search and arrest warrants must be supported by probable cause and be limited in scope according to specific information supplied by a person (usually a peace officer) who has sworn by it and is therefore accountable to the issuing court.
The amendment applies only to governmental actors; it does not guarantee to people the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by private citizens or organizations. Hence, the amendment is not limited to protecting elements of privacy or personal autonomy, but rather applies pervasively to virtually all aspects of criminal law. Nevertheless, the amendment is not so broad as to replace other constitutional provisions, such as replacing the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment with a more sweeping ban on "unreasonable" punishment.
The Fourth Amendment was needed because the writs of assistance had alarmed the country, and had inspired citizens to demand their rights. Congress recognized those demands, and so the Fourth Amendment stands today. But does the word "unreasonable" mean unreasonable according to the people of 1789, or according to people today, or according to judges, or according to juries? This question has not been definitively answered. However, to the extent that the Fourth Amendment is used for purposes of striking down statutes, the framers expected that the standard of review would be clear and irreconcilable variance with the Fourth Amendment.