The Fourth Amendment still applies in 2014

In a ruling handed down on December 31st, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven gave a thumbs down to a law passed in the State of Florida to require drug tests for people applying for welfare benefits.  As part of her ruling, she stated “The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”  There was already an injunction in place putting a temporary ban on the law, and that ban will now be permanent.

“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.”Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

I haven’t seen a written copy of her ruling online, but from my viewpoint, that ruling shouldn’t have taken 10 minutes to reach.  Simply applying for welfare benefits is not enough to satisfy the conditions of the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause for a search.  Peeing in a cup is a personal search, whether most people realize it or not.  If you volunteer that sample, then no warrant is necessary or needed.  The government can not compel you to give a sample without a warrant though.  In obtaining that warrant, there has to be probable cause to issue that warrant.  A person applying for welfare is not probable cause for a personal search.

This is not the first time such a law has been struck down by the courts.  In 2003, the courts struck down a similar law passed in Michigan.  Undeterred, numerous states have passed these laws with the same Fourth Amendment to the Constitution still in effect unchanged.

I understand the emotional aspect of the debate.  Emotion does not trump law though, at least in the USA it doesn’t.  No politician or political party should ever put emotion over the Constitution either.  While it feels good when you want to piss on the rights of those with whom you disagree, I’m sure that same person doing the pissing would be pissed off at someone trying to eat away at his constitutionally protected rights.

There are numerous ways to combat the perception of drugged out welfare users.  The first thing is to join reality.  From the previous testing done in Michigan and Florida, drug use amongst welfare recipients was not any greater than the general public.  That should show there is no huge segment of drug users applying for welfare, regardless to what ideology and/or rhetoric says.  Some people eat, sleep, and crap rhetoric so I think that will be much easier said than done here.  That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to rid ourselves of this out-of-touch thinking.  A big help would be for the media to stop pushing the false narratives and actually return to investigative reporting as opposed to the sensationalism crap we’re having thrust upon us.

Next, for those who do use drugs, treatment is likely a better option that criminalization.  America has 25% of the world’s prison population, and that’s fueled by our “lock’em up for anything” mentality.  Prison does not help drug users nowhere near as much as getting them help to break their addiction does.  We’ve had our “War on Drugs” for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and we are getting our ass kicked as drug usage is still as much an issue now as it was 30 years ago.  Just saying “No” doesn’t work.

Finally, gainful employment would do more to slow down the application and disbursement of welfare than anything else.  When people have employment that helps them live, they don’t need welfare, nor do they meet the requirements to qualify for welfare.  In allowing companies to squash pay to the point where the minimum wage has about half the buying power it did decades ago, America has set itself up to become a welfare dependent nation.

Hopefully, Georgia, North Carolina, and the other states passing these “waste of time” laws will see the light and do away with them before the court does.  I don’t want to hear the whining about “activist judges” when they are simply ensuring the laws that are being passed meets Constitutional muster.  We have more than enough other issues to deal with right now, so any side-show legislation to give a moral victory to the ideology is a waste of time.

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6 thoughts on “The Fourth Amendment still applies in 2014

  1. It was my impression that the War on Drugs began as a war on young people who had been causing trouble in society lately. The obvious explanation for the trouble was that those kids were all on drugs. As things changed a little, the immediate mental picture of a drug user went from young hippie to urban black and the War on Drugs became a war on black people. Later, as we began to have larger Hispanic populations and as gang behavior among some Asian immigrants came to light, it was expanded to a war on minorities. It has never been about the drugs; it has always been about what we considered an undesirable class of people. Now it’s people who are on welfare.

    I’m a Boomer, born after WWII. In my years I’ve seen us fight a number of wars, but never a just or smart one.

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    • I was quite young when the war on drugs started. I’ve grown up in the midst of it, and from where I sit, victories have been far and few inbetween. I don’t think rehab is the cure-all, but it seems that locking people up without some sort of penalty or treatment to discourage recidivism, there will never be any significant change in drug usage and crime.

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  2. In my opinion, drug testing for “welfare” recipients was just somebody’s feel good idea. If they’d taken a minute to think, it would cost a fortune to test everybody cause if you test them once, you’d have to keep testing one would think. I agree that it violates the 4th Amendment.

    As for the “War on Drugs”, it looks vastly different where I live. Well north of 90% of it up here is meth heads (the vast majority of whom are white) and about 99% of the crime here can be traced back to them. They have to steal to get money for drugs because they can’t hold a job, legal or not. They know pretty much nothing is going to happen to them (I knew one guy who served 18 months on a 20 year sentence). It’s basically a joke and they know it. In my opinion, rehabilitation is fine but the number one purpose of prison is punishment (and the deterrent from that is a secondary benefit) and that doesn’t exist. Most of the ones I’ve known openly laugh about it (including one guy who spent more than 20 years of his less than 50 years on the planet building state time at Reidsville and Jackson).

    It gets mighty old having to keep everything you have under constant lock and key to keep these assholes from stealing it.

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    • And I forgot to add, you can’t rehabilitate anybody until they decide they want to be rehabilitated, no matter anybody’s good intentions.

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    • I’m with you 100% on the cost issue of drug testing. I also agree with you on it getting old about having to lock your stuff up to keep it from being stolen.

      We didn’t have to lock the doors of our house for the first 18 years I was alive. An influx of drug users into the neighborhood changed that very quickly. I remember coming home from college and finding the door locked. Until they told me what was going on, I thought it was a joke.

      Prison doesn’t seem to do anything but create career criminals. I know the news reports the worst of the worst, but there is a lot of recidivism in regards to people being locked up for drugs. If I knew the answer to stop it, I’d change professions tomorrow.

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      • The Drug Courts that they’ve started seem to work about as good as anything I’ve seen. In my area I’d say the success rate is probably 25-30%. Of course, I also don’t know of anybody who ever went there voluntarily. It was always to try to avoid a prison sentence. The one thing that I think makes it work as well as it does is that if you screw up, you’re gone.

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