A Lesson on the Fourth Amendment

By Millie Aulbur, Director of law-related education
The Missouri Bar

  1. This short lesson on the Fourth Amendment can be used with students Grades 5 and higher. The objective of the lesson is to quickly acquaint students with the protections in the Fourth Amendment and to explore some Fourth Amendment situations involving young people.
  2. Materials needed: Sufficient copies for all participants of materials used.
  3. Distribute copies of the Fourth Amendment or make an overhead. Read together as a class. Depending on time, consider discussing these aspects of Fourth Amendment:
    • Why did the men who wrote the Constitution want a right like this included? (The colonists had experienced unannounced searches by the British and the right to be free from unreasonable searches was a right English citizens enjoyed and the colonists felt should have been accorded to them.)
    • How important is this right to you?
  4. Two questions that are almost always litigated with Fourth Amendment issues are did a search really occur and was the search reasonable.
    • What is a search? (Put up overhead of kinds of searches or distribute copies.)
    • Depending on the class, you may want to consider discussing that the right to be free of unreasonable searches, also means that there is an expectation of privacy in the thing being searched. Give some examples of something private: home, locker, car, purse, pockets, hotel room. But what about a friend’s house or a friend’s car? What would you say about trash bags in front of your home? What would you see about heat radiating from your home?
    • A search with a warrant is considered per se reasonable. What is the warrant requirement? Who can get a warrant? Who do they get the warrant from? (May want to discuss use of informants, observations, etc.)
    • What is reasonable when there is no warrant? Discuss exceptions. (See handouts)
  5. What do you think happens to evidence that the police or the government obtains from an illegal search—one where there was no warrant and one that does not fall within one of the exceptions? Prior to 1961, the court would basically say that it was illegal but still allow the evidence. In 1961, in a landmark case called Mapp. V. Ohio, the Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule. (Explain how there is a hearing, how sometimes cases are thrown out.)
  6. Do the role plays with the students. After each role play, explore the various Fourth Amendment issues. (Attached are explanations of both cases.) Keep these aspects of the role play in mind:
    • At the time TLO was decided, it was not illegal for minors to possess cigarettes.
    • The It’s My Body role play makes it clear that there is not probable cause for the urine testing in this school—there is no drug problem