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Republicans Reject Fourth Amendment

Wed., Feb. 8, 1995

The Republican-controlled House on Tuesday voted to reject an amendment whose language sounded terribly familiar: that of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees Americans protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

During debate on a Republican proposal to allow unlawfully seized evidence to be use in court more, lawmakers voted against a measure by Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to substitute the Fourth Amendment instead. The vote, generally along party lines, was 303-121.

Democratic lawmakers took the floor in quick succession to accuse the Republicans of jettisoning the Constitution.

“We were there when our doors were kicked down,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., one of several black lawmakers to speak harshly of the GOP proposal. “We were there when people were sold into slavery. … This is not about some game we’re playing. This is about protection of human and individual rights for the people.”

But Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said the Fourth Amendment substitute would gut his bill. “The public is tired of (criminals) getting off on technicalities,” he said.

The measure, part of the GOP’s “Contract With America,” would expand the “good faith” exception to a longstanding rule requiring unlawfully seized evidence to be excluded from criminal cases.

The rule is designed to deter police misconduct and protect people from unreasonable search and seizure.

The exception allows unlawfully seized evidence to be considered in court as long as the mistakes made by police officers in seizing it were made in good faith. The GOP bill would expand that to situations in which police gathered evidence without a search warrant but had an “objectively reasonable belief” they were acting properly.


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