Thursday, March 01, 2012

Goons and the Fourth Amendment

My son William and his sweetheart Abbey were married last night on the same beach he proposed to her a year ago.  Bolivar peninsula isn’t the easiest destination, requiring a very long road trip or, as an alternative, a short ferry ride across the ship channel.  It was a lovely ceremony in spite of the mosquitoes which showed up as uninvited guests.

After the wedding we got into our vehicles for the trip back to Galveston where the reception was to be held.  Some of the wedding party made it onto the ferry which was already loading while the rest of us got to wait in line for the next boat.  The security detail randomly selected vehicles and pulled them out of line to be searched just like they do at the airports.   Mind you, this is a public road with a ferry; not really any different than crossing a body of water over a bridge so it bothered my sense of right and wrong to watch Gestapo tactics being employed. 

Wouldn’t you know these goons singled out two vehicles from the wedding party, one of them had my son and his bride wearing her beautiful wedding gown.   My new daughter in law exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding!”  They were not, as she stood on the pavement, wedding dress gathered in her arms to keep it from getting oil on it.  They searched the entire car; engine compartment, trunk and the interior as if it were a piece of luggage at the airport looking for what…explosives, drugs or nail clippers; you tell me.

I remained in my car, grumbling loudly as the veins in my neck began to swell; but not so loudly as to make a scene.  The last thing I wanted was to wreck the night for these kids on their honeymoon.   I knew I could do more with a keyboard the next day; and besides, the goons wouldn’t have comprehended the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, they were simply “doing their jobs”.

The Fourth Amendment as contained in the Bill of Rights:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Historically, the Fourth Amendment was a direct result of colonial days and British “General Warrants”, issued by the King which ignored anyone’s reasonable expectation of privacy.  In Virginia a law was drafted to protect individuals from this infringement on liberty.

“That general warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.”

Searches carried out randomly are grievous and oppressive as they support the idea that everyone is guilty until proven otherwise.  Searches conducted without cause by a government official mean the search was conducted capriciously and had no merit other than curiosity. 

The Supreme Court has issued several rulings or exceptions, as found on the Wikipedia pages, that apply to the Fourth Amendment which tend to dilute its original intended purpose.  That having been said,

“Where society’s need is great and no other effective means of meeting the need is available, and intrusion on people’s privacy is minimal, checkpoints toward that end may briefly detain motorists.” (Michigan v. Sitz, 1990)

I’m not a legal scholar; but that comes off as vague to the point of being useless if we’re trying to justify violating the Fourth Amendment protections afforded individuals, at least from the founding father’s standpoint.  “Society’s need”, it would appear the Supreme Court might have forgotten which country they were in.   Society’s needs NEVER justify denying a God given individual right.  If this concept isn’t clear by now then none of the other protections offered by the Bill of Rights and Constitution mean anything either.

“In 1979, (Delaware v. Prouse) the Supreme Court stated that, absent articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver’s license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable.”

That ferry check point is starting to look a bit shaky.  If these goons where searching for contraband of any kind then the check point was clearly a violation of law unless they had a signed search warrant based on probable cause; yea, right!  I forgot to notice the dates; we are in retrograde mode.  

As John Locke explained many years ago: 

“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, ‘a liberty for every man to do what he lists.’ For who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him? But a liberty to dispose and order freely as he lists his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.”

If that antique wording went over your head, it means that individuals have certain inalienable rights which cannot be usurped regardless of how many of his/her neighbors gather to abolish or reduce those inalienable rights.  People can give to their government ONLY that which they themselves have individually. 

Our Declaration of Independence pointed to this idea as we separated from the rule of Great Britain and its King. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..”

Ezra Taft Benson in his talk, The Proper Role of Government , quoted the Alabama state constitution. 

“That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.”

This idea has been around since before governments were instituted by men and, as far as can be determined, can be found in every state’s constitution; worded in various and yet similarly structured manner. 

The moment we as a people permit our government representatives, be they elected or appointed, to violate individual’s God given rights as protected by our Constitution and Bill of Rights, at that moment we have thrown hundreds of years of blood, sweat and tears in the trash.  We will have taken these precious documents and publicly abandoned the principles upon which they were formed and recorded. 

Regarding public servants working at airports, ferry landings or setting up random check points along our roadways; these security measures were put in place to make everyone feel “safer”; but are in fact earmarks of a police state having been installed in direct conflict with everything our nation stands for.   You cannot excuse yourselves by saying, “I was only doing my job”.

This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal, a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.


Perri Nelson said...

Awesome post, and yet another sad example of how we've allowed the "rights of society" to wrongfully trump the natural rights of the individual. Unfortunately our Supreme court has often been stacked in favor of tyrrany rather than liberty since the "progressive" era of modern government began.

T. F. Stern said...

I generally write an awesome post every time one of my sons gets married; problem with that is I have only one son. lol
Glad you liked it.

T. F. Stern said...

This is one of those, "for the record" comments. William and Abbey just got back from their honeymoon (yea that's a short time) and Abbey was almost in tears explaining how the bottom of her wedding dress has oil stains on it from where she had to get out of the car when the goons search it. I'm wondering if TxDot will send me a check to cover getting it cleaned as a gesture of good faith or will I have to get an attorney and make a big issue out of this. What would you do, not "WWJD"; Jesus would just touch it with his finger and it would be all clean.

T. F. Stern said...

How about this, got a response back from TxDot:

Dear Mr. Stern:

I regret that you experienced a situation that you regard as unpleasant during your use of the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry System last week. I would be happy to discuss the matter with you, including an explanation of our procedures, at your convenience. You will find my contact information below.


Hank Glamann
Public Information Officer
Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry System
Texas Department of Transportation
409.795.2279 Office
281.686.5154 Cell
409.795.2280 Fax
P.O. Box 381
Galveston, TX 77553-0381

MathewK said...

Congratulations to your son and his lovely bride. That's too bad the event had to be spoiled by the road blocks and searching for nothing.

David said...

Caroll v. The United States (SCOTUS ruling) established these general rules for warrantless searches of vehicles:

Probable cause to believe contraband is contained in the vehicle;

The occupants of the vehicle are currently not under arrest; and

The vehicle is stopped on the highway

The minumum "brightline" standard isgenerally,

"If an officer stops a vehicle on the side of the road or in a parking lot and the officer has probable cause to believe that contraband is in the vehicle, the officer may search the vehicle without a search warrant."

In terms of 4th Amendment restrictions on government searches, the rule is that individual States can be more restrictive than this, limiting warrantless searches even more strictly, but this is the minimum standard that must be met.

I'd like to see the officers' probable cause for the search in writing, just so I could mock it.

T. F. Stern said...


Thank you for the information; but if this is their reason then they suspect anyone without cause at all as these were randomly selected vehicles.

T. F. Stern said...

Mr. Stern:

Pursuant to our telephone conversation of March 12, here is the portion of the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, that mandates the security searches of vehicles boarding the ferries operated by the Texas Department of Transportation's Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry System:

33 CFR Chapter 1 (7-1-10 Edition)
Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security

CFR104.265 Security measures for access control
(a) General: The vessel owner or operator must ensure the implementation of security measures to:
(1) Deter the unauthorized introduction of dangerous substances and devices, including any device intended to damage or destroy persons, vessels, facilities, or ports;
(2) Secure dangerous substances and devices that are authorized by the owner or operator to be on board;
(3) Control access to the vessel.

As I explained, operations such as ours that are subject to these regulations formulate a plan in response, this plan is reviewed and approved by the Coast Guard, and upon such approval it becomes law. As I also mentioned, the plan under which we operate is intended to be the least intrusive possible within the limitations imposed by the regulations.

Your observation that regulations such as these may be seen as an erosion of individual liberty in exchange for the perception of security is well taken. But I know you can also appreciate that the rule of law is a cornerstone of our society, and that as agents of the state we are bound to abide by the law.

Again, I regret that our security procedures created what you viewed as an unpleasant experience for your son and his new bride. It certainly was not our intention to create such a situation, as we always endeavor to treat our passengers with courtesy and respect. But we also are charged with maintaining public safety, and try our best to accomplish both goals.

I hope this information will prove useful to you.


Hank Glamann
Public Information Officer
Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry System
Texas Department of Transportation
409.795.2279 Office
281.686.5154 Cell
409.795.2280 Fax
P.O. Box 381
Galveston, TX 77553-0381