Why should I know my 4th Amendment rights?

Everyone should be trained to assert their constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment in order to avoid the hassle and humiliation of police misconduct and illegal searches.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report on citizen-police contacts, about 21 percent of the population age 16 years or older -- or about 44 million people -- had contact with the police during 1999. More than half of these interactions occurred during traffic stops.

Of the 19.3 million traffic stops documented in the study, about 1.3 million motorists said they or their vehicle had been searched. In almost 90 percent of these searches, police found no evidence of a crime whatsoever! There is reason to believe that many, if not most of these searches could have been avoided if the motorist had properly asserted his or her rights by refusing to consent to a warrantless search.

Still, while all Americans should be prepared to exercise their constitutional rights during police encounters, certain groups must be particularly aware of these rights due to systemic biases in law enforcement. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that minorities and young people are disproportionately likely to be searched by police.

In recent years, a debate has emerged over racial-profiling by law enforcement officers, highlighting the significance of constitutional provisions intended to prohibit discriminatory police practices. We believe that educating citizens about their constitutional rights plays a necessary role in reducing the public harms associated with such practices.

Get more facts on racial profiling and police/public contacts.