The article and the cases cited therein deal with a very important legal concept and the issues surrounding it. Central to the argument in the article is the meaning, scope and limitation of one of the most important and commonly-invoked provision of the Bill of Rights—the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment guarantees each person’s right to be secured n their persons, houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizure. It is a limitation on the government’s very broad police power. What are being protected by the amendment are the people’s security and privacy. As the courts have ruled in many cases, “A man’s home is his castle (Minnesota v. Carter, Concurring Opinion by Justice Scalia).” Every man has a right to be secured in his own home.
While the amendment uses the word home, the Courts have not been very strict in applying the provision. The concept of the home has been extended to that structure other than that which the person owns and in which that person habitually lives. To determine the limitation and scope by which the protection may be applied, the court developed the concept ”legitimate expectation of privacy” as the test for determining the extent of entitlement for the invocation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections. By legitimate expectation, the court implies “the prerogative to exclude others…” and the “right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion (Minnesota v. Carter, Dissenting Opinion by Gidsburg).
Examples of the cases wherein this test has been applied are the 1990 case of Minnesota v. Olson and the 1978 ruling, Rakas v. Illinois. In the first case, the court ruled that “an overnight guest had such an expectation and thus could claim Fourth Amendment rights.” On the contrary, the 1978 ruling “held that automobile passengers were not entitled to raise a Fourth Amendment objection to the seizure of incriminating evidence if they owned neither the evidence nor the car, even if they had a right to be in the car at the time (Greenhouse).”
The court, in the case of Minnesota v. Carter, is a divided court. The majority opinion overturned the 1997 ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court, which “set aside the narcotics convictions of two men who had spent several hours in a third person’s apartment preparing cocaine for sale.” The majority used a strict construction of the Constitutional provision as it focused on the intent of the framers of the provision to limit the application of the protection of the Amendment to the home, where a person has the strongest expectation of privacy and security.
Therefore, the court ruled that “the protection offered by the Fourth Amendment extends no further than a person’s own home (Greenhouse).” No offense or violation to such privacy or security will be experienced in a place where men only stayed to conclude a commercial transaction. At most, the security and privacy rights that will be violated are those of the owner, whether or not he is included in the transaction or not.
However, as already mentioned, the court in this case is a divided court. Even those who voted against the application of the Fourth Amendment have divergent opinions. An example is Justice Kennedy who, in his concurring opinion, upheld the legitimate expectation of privacy of ”almost all social guests.” However, in this case, he opined that the men’s connection to the home is too ”fleeting and insubstantial” to pronounce that they have acquired even a limited expectation of privacy.
While his opinion gave the same result as the others in the majority opinion, he used a loose construction of the Constitution wherein he extends the protection outside the premises of the home, as opposed to what was initially contemplated by the framers of the Constitutional Amendment. This is an acceptance of and adaptation to the reality that, at present, it is already a common practice for people to invite people into their homes and to stay in other people’s homes or in other places of abode for a length of time for different reasons. This ensures that the protection of the privacy and security of these persons will not be severed just because they are outside their own homes.
The divergence of the opinion of the court does not end here. It may be said that Judge Kennedy took the middle ground because there is another group of people who took a more liberal view than him, as regards the scope of the protection of the Fourth Amendment. This view is expressed in the dissenting opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to which Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter joined.
They opined that the protection of the Fourth Amendment extends to short-term guests. According to the opinion, “through the host’s invitation, the guest gains a reasonable expectation of privacy in the home.” The same opinion was upheld by Justice Stephen G. Breyer in his separate opinion, but he reached a different conclusion because he believed that looking through the window blinds does not amount to a search.
This interpretation is, again, a loose construction of the Constitutional Amendment. It adapts the provision to people’s recognized custom of staying overnight in another’s home, rather than use a strict construction of the word “home” as initially contemplated by the framers. The court has held that, “[f]rom the overnight guest’s perspective, he seeks shelter in another’s home precisely because it provides him with privacy, a place where he and his possessions will not be disturbed by anyone but his host and those his host allows inside” (See Minnesota v. Olson). This is similar to the concurring opinion discussed above by Justice Kennedy.
This divergence of opinions arose from a very delicate line which the courts and law is trying to draw between the right of government to use its powers and the right of people to be protected from these same powers. When the facts are clearly within the initial contemplation of the framers of the law, the application is easy. However, there are cases such as this one, which treads on the line and makes interpretation and application of the law difficult. In this case, a police officer received a tip and acted on it. However, instead of going through the common process of obtaining a warrant, he observed the activity in the basement of the apartment in question through a gap in the closed Venetian blinds.
The officer obtained a search warrant later, but the Minnesota Court ruled that the previous act of the officer in observing the activities through a closed Venetian blind without first obtaining a warrant was an illegal search. However, as already mentioned, this was overturned by the Supreme Court when it ruled that the people involved do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy as “one who is merely present with the consent of the householder” (Minnesota v. Carter). This application of the Amendment are viewed by at least five members of the court to be against many jurisprudential precedents which have defined the extent of the Fourth Amendment protection outside the limits of a person’s own home.
Greenhouse, Linda. “High Court Curbs Claim on Privacy in a Home.” The New York Times. 2 Dec. 1998. 30 Nov. 2007 <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res= 9A07E1DB143BF931A35751C1A96E958260>.
Minnesota v. Carter (97-1147), 569 N. W. 2d 169 and 180, December 1, 1998.
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