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Fourth Amendment Takes a Big Hit

If you live in Louisiana, Texas or Mississippi, you just lost an important right: the right to be free from an intrusion and search of your home unless the police have a warrant. In a ruling two dissenting justices called "the road to hell," the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police may search homes and buildings for evidence without a warrant.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police do not need an arrest or search warrant to conduct a swift sweep of private property to ensure their own safety. Any evidence discovered during that search now is admissible in court as long as the search is a "cursory inspection," and if police entered the site for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and believed it may be dangerous.

Prior to this ruling, police were only allowed to make a cursory inspection of someone's property if they were there to arrest someone.

"I have no doubt that the deputy sheriffs believed they were acting reasonably and with good intentions," Judges Harold DeMoss Jr. and Carl E. Stewart wrote. "But the old adage warns us that 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' "

The ACLU weighs in:

"This decision is the latest roll-back of safeguards to protect the people from being at the mercy of a police state," said Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Allowing law enforcement to search homes without probable cause or any warrant makes a dramatic and dangerous departure from one of our most fundamental American freedoms."

The case is United States v Gould (2004, CA5 La) 2004 US App Lexis 5505 (pdf).

The Supreme Court has said, “physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980). We think this ruling runs afoul of that principle.

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