This essay traces the evolution of the jurisprudence of the American Supreme Court in its interpretations since 1960 of the Fourth Amendment. In balancing the rights of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement and other governmental agencies and the interests of public order, the Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren (1953-1969) tipped the scales in the 60s in favor of individual rights, by ruling that the prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment applied to the states and local governments under the exclusionary rule, emphasizing the importance of searches and seizures being conducted in accordance with search warrants issued by neutral judges or magistrates and restricting the legitimate scope of warrantless searches. Subsequent Courts under Chief Justices Warren Burger (1970-1986) and William Rehnquist in the late 80s and the 90s circscribed the prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment, mainly by expanding the permissible zone of police searches incident to lawful arrests, by creating various exceptions to sanction warrantless searches and seizures and by narrowing significantly the impact of the exclusionary rule.

This partial reversal of course by the Court since the early 70s mirrored public concern over rising crime rates in the United States and reflected the more conservative composition of the Court itself. These jurisprudential changes have been evolutionary rather than revolution



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