Intrusive Searches

The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. Despite the power and clarity of that rule, law enforcement too often invades people’s privacy and property without real justification. Men and women of color bear the brunt of these intrusions, which can be uncomfortable, humiliating, and insulting. We work to ensure that the Fourth Amendment provides meaningful protection against law enforcement overreach.

Key Case: Johnson v. United States (Supreme Court)

Twenty-two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), that police with probable cause to suspect a moving violation may stop and seize a motorist, even if the seizure is a pretext to search for evidence of other possible crimes. In this case, the en banc Seventh held, over the dissent of three judges, that a mere parking infraction justifies a pretextual search. The dissenting judges warned that the decision gives police the power to seize people for “parking while black” and that “the police tactics here would never be tolerated in more affluent neighborhoods.”

The MacArthur Justice Center is challenging the decision in the United States Supreme Court. The Justices will meet to decide whether to hear the case on September 24. A range of individuals and institutions—including the Cato Institute and a group of law professors who specialize in criminal procedure—have urged the Court to hear the case.

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