Fourth Amendment cases things to know

by John Bandler

Fourth Amendment Q&A

  • What is the highest law in the U.S. regarding government searches and seizures?
    • The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
  • What does the Fourth Amendment protect against?
    • The Fourth Amendment is a limit on the powers of government to search and seize. It protects against unreasonable search or seizure by the government.
  • If a judge decides police obtained evidence unlawfully, what might the judge do?
    • Suppress (exclude) the evidence pursuant to the exclusionary rule and the Fourth Amendment.
  • What document contains the fundamental principles underlying all U.S. laws?
    • U.S. Constitution
  • Why are case decisions important?
    • They establish law, precedent (stare decisis)
  • What concept describes the weight given to a prior decision by a court?
    • Legal precedent (stare decisis, authority)

Fourth Amendment Case Progression

Initially no consequences for violations of the 4th Amendment, then applied only to federal government, then applicable also to state and local governments

Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914)

Warrantless seizure by federal law enforcement from a private residence violates the 4th Amendment. Illegally seized evidence must be excluded (suppressed).

Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465 (1921)

Searches by private parties, even illegal searches, do not implicate the 4th Amendment, and suppression is not a remedy.

Gambino v. United States, 275 U.S. 310 (1927)

Searches by local or state law enforcement (in 1927) don't implicate the 4th Amendment unless it is on behalf of the federal government (silver platter).

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)

4th Amendment applies to states (not just the feds) via Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Illegal searches by local law enforcement do implicate the 4th Amendment, and suppression (exclusion) is a remedy.

Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

4th Amend applies to conversations too. Concept of reasonable expectation of privacy (REP) from Government

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

Police may temporarily detain (stop) and possibly pat down frisk based upon reasonable suspicion (which is less than probable cause).  “Stop and frisk” is Constitutionally permissible.

People v. Zelinksy, 24 Cal 3d 357 (Cal Sup Ct 1979)

Under California law, an illegal private search by a private entity, used in a criminal case, could be subject to suppression under the California Constitution.

Minnesota v. Buswell, 449 N.W.2d 471 (Minn. App. 1989) Ch 8 p.459.

Under Minnesota law, it is not enough just to say it was a private search to evade the 4th Amendment. The court must analyze whether there was government involvement.


These are short Q&As and summaries cannot be expected to capture all nuances of all terms or decisions.

Purpose of this page

This page is a study aid for my students, and a place for me to draw quiz and assignment questions from. The goal is for students to learn important concepts, especially foundational concepts that provide footholds for learning more complex concepts.


This page is hosted at, copyright John Bandler, all rights reserved.

Posted 5/3/2023 based on years of teaching. Updated 5/3/2023