Did the Federal Government Just Pass a Bill that Completely Ignores the Warrant Requirement?

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter, the rain may enter -- but the King of England cannot enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!”

- William Pitt the Elder 1708-1778.

American jurisprudence has long accepted the wisdom of this 18th-century proclamation. Indeed, this sentiment is the basis for our Constitution’s 4th Amendment that protects us from unreasonable government searches and seizures. However, many fear that our 4th Amendment Right is slowly dying as its protections are gradually chipped away and legislatively narrowed to protect us in fewer and fewer situations.

The most recent law to be criticized by civil liberty advocates is House Joint Resolution 76. There’s an article circulating social media that claims this resolution allows warrantless searches of private homes and is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment. The article and associated (rather alarming) video generally claims that the unconstitutional provisions were buried in a bill that addresses the Washington D.C.‘s public transportation authority and allows law enforcement to forcibly enter and search homes in the metro D.C. area without a warrant.

Generally, most criminal defense attorneys and civil liberties advocates have come to expect this type of legislation from our increasingly militaristic police state, but the coverage of House Joint Resolution 76 leaves out the fact that the bill only allows transit authority workers who, "upon reasonable notice and a finding by the chief executive officer that a need exists," can enter private lands that are adjacent to the railway system to inspect, investigate, examine, and test.

"Notice" and a "finding that a need exists," sounds a lot like (but different, nonetheless) from what the 4th Amendment requires cops to prove to a judge before a warrant is issued. H.J.Res. 76 is troubling, nonetheless, because it is not clear whether the 100+ years of jurisprudence that interprets the warrant requirement will apply to the Transit Authority's CEO when making the determination that a "need exists." It’s also not clear if the Transit Authority’s CEO will necessarily have enough legal experience to heed our founding fathers’ (William Pitt the Elder’s) concerns.

Has the federal government just passed a law that completely ignores the 4th Amendment? Probably not. Unfortunately, however, this bill, like many before it, seems to continue the trend of chipping away at our constitutional right in the name of security. What effect this bill will have on state law making bodies and local government is, at the moment, anyone’s guess.

If you are confronted by the police, remember these four phrases:

“I do not consent to answer any questions”

“I do not consent to a search of my property or myself.”

“If I am free to leave, I wish to leave now.”

“If not, I wish to speak with my attorney.” [1]

If you feel that law enforcement officers are violating your right to be free of unreasonable seizures and searches, call Longwell Lawyers and protect your Rights.

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of changein the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas


[1] This information should not solely be relied upon and is only intended to promote awareness of your constitutional rights. You should consult with an attorney immediately.