Now, search for answers

Constitutionality of Boston police behavior needs to be questioned

  • Follow Editorials

Law enforcement officers were rightly hailed as
heroes after capturing the second Boston bombing suspect.

These officers risked everything to track the suspect down – knowing full well he was armed and deadly and perhaps even strapped with explosives.

The nation’s anxiety during the search turned to relief, gratitude and adulation afterward. The scenes of law enforcement vehicles being applauded by bystanders as they exited the scene were exhilirating, and filled observers with patriotism and pride.

Having said that, we hope the nation is up to a debate over how the search was carried out – and that law enforcement officials are open to it.

In particular, it must be asked: Were the searches of homes entirely constitutional?

Amateur footage now on the Internet shows one home being emptied by a SWAT team as part of a search of it. If the residents were asked for consent, the debate is over. But if not, it’s troubling to see what occurred next.

The house was emptied out of a handful of residents, one by one, with orders for them to keep their hands in the air like criminals. They were each whisked down the sidewalk and frisked.

As a nation, we need to talk about this.

Ordinarily, the government must have the consent of the resident or probable cause (usually accompanied by a warrant) to search a house. Obviously, this was not an ordinary situation. Public safety was at issue.

Does that mean the no-questions-asked removal of residents is constitutional? Or if not, does it mean we temporarily suspended the Constitution?

It’s likely the residents of Boston gladly waived their rights that night.

The executive director of
the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union, Carol Rose, told the libertarian Reason.com that her office has received some citizen complaints of rights violations. She didn’t express an opinion on the matter, except to caution that, “This is not the time to give up our constitutional rights and civil liberties. This is the time that they become most important. It is in times of crisis and fear that they are most tested.”

Even so, the Reason writer noted, “During the course of my reporting, I was unable to locate a single Watertown resident that admitted to being uncomfortable” with the government’s actions.

We don’t pretend to know the answer, and indeed the answer may be wholly subjective and a matter of opinion. We suspect the courts would confirm authorities’ right to search in an emergency, under the legal principle of “exigent circumstances.” But we think the debate would be a healthy exercise in American civics. And from a practical standpoint, we’d feel better about it if the arguments were had and the legal justifications spelled out – and a line is drawn somewhere.

Our unease is only exacerbated when someone such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg opines that in the wake of Boston, “our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

To what extent, sir, and to whose liking? And under what authority?

When the dust settles and the nerves calm, it’s a discussion we need to have.

Comments (22) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
specsta
6073
Points
specsta 05/02/13 - 01:51 am
12
1
The Fourth Amendment

ACES, you bring up some valid points.

It is my hope that people do not get too comfortable with a "police state" on our doorsteps, allowing warrantless searches of our private homes, vehicles and persons. The Fourth Amendment must be upheld at all times.

However, most folks will comply with any request by gun-toting, flak-vest wearing, police commandos - simply out of fear. The thought of being on the wrong end of a bullet must go through anyone's mind when confronted with 9mm Glocks and assault rifles. And that is just wrong. Intimidation trumps civil rights.

This same principal also must apply to police operations such as "Operation Thunder". Illegal searches are the stuff of Nazi Germany, and must be not be a part of our American lives as citizens.

Young Fred
15724
Points
Young Fred 05/02/13 - 02:50 am
11
0
This was an unusual operation

That being said, we must always question and debate the tactics used.

Don't doubt me on this. As soon as we accept uncostitutional tactics, is the point and time we start allowing this on a regular basis.

I know this was a potential situation where many people could have died, and the locals were just trying to insure safety for all, but once you allow these tactics to take place unquestionably, you're already half-way down the slippery slope.

Riverman1
79335
Points
Riverman1 05/02/13 - 04:47 am
6
1
Home of the Minute-men

It’s right there in the Constitution for all to see. What did our forefathers, the writers of the Constitution mean? They had fought a war with a government that didn’t recognize their individual rights and wanted to ensure such behavior by government never happened again. They detested unreasonable searches of home or person and that includes those driving horse drawn wagons down the road to put Operation Thunder in perspective. Massachusetts, the home of the minute-men, should have known better than to suspend the Constitution.

Start giving up or suspending parts of the Constitution and it means nothing even if it is so protected in the National Archives that it automatically goes into an underground vault if the building is in danger. If Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t want New York to adhere to the Constitution let THEM secede this time.

myfather15
49594
Points
myfather15 05/02/13 - 05:45 am
3
4
@specsta

Instead of sitting there demeaing police departments and officers; lets hear your solution or ideas of replacing law enforcement officers with your system. Why kind of system would you establish? I would seriously love to hear this; because ANY system where MANKIND is running it or enforcing it will NEVER be perfect, EVER.

Now, besides that; I COMPLETELY agree with this letter. If I had been in Boston as a LE officer; we asked to search a home and the owner said they didn't want it. I wouldn't enter the home; even if a supervisor told me too, its just not right.

BUT, I would be HIGHLY suspicious of those people. Again, we are looking for a terrorist who attacked ALL of us; what do you have to hide? We are attacked basically as a Country; shouldn't we ALL put aside our personal issues and come together to assist each other? WHY wouldn't you want to help those LE officers rule OUT your home as a hiding place? Shouldn't we all be WILLING to put aside our difference and come together for the higher cause? Notice I did say WILLING; the government thinks they should FORCE people to do things for the greater good. I maintain it should be willingly done on the part of individuals.

carcraft
24159
Points
carcraft 05/02/13 - 06:11 am
3
0
People need to realize that

People need to realize that law enforcement has two purposes. The first is public safety. Now if they search houses for a suspect without warrants under public safety then contraband etc. found can't be used in a court of law. Under public safety the authorities limit access to homes, tow vehicles, and restrict areas that are a danger. Law enforcement is another separate area with different requirements and enforcement of constitutional guarantees. Suppose a law enforcement officer is driving by a home and smells natural gas. The officer checks the meter, no leak. The officer walks up to the front door and the smell are stronger. He knocks on the front door and there is no answer. He then enters the house the door is unlocked and finds the family has succumbed to the fumes and evacuates the family saving their lives. Is this illegal entry? Should he have gotten a search warrant?

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 05/02/13 - 06:16 am
2
1
There is the "exigent
Unpublished

There is the "exigent circumstances" exception to the 4th Amendment which allows warrantless searches. Whether it was justified in this case or any other or not is for a court to decide given the specific circumstances. So, a national debate about it is rather pointless. Tactics like Operation Thunder are another matter.

DanK
779
Points
DanK 05/02/13 - 06:30 am
11
0
Why complain at this late date?

We gave up our Constitutional rights with the passage of the Patriot Act and subsequent power grabs by the federal government to monitor our activities, our conversations, our internet usage and our telephone calls without warrant, with no requirement for probable cause, and with no power to contest their incursions on our liberties. Trampling our rights in the name of "combating terrorists" is sacrificing our freedom out of fear. And yet I heard few voices opposing the Patriot Act and its spin-offs. Everyone simply said "Well, I have nothing to hide, so I don't care." How is this any different?

Now that we've given up those rights to the feds, it will be nigh on impossible to get them back. And with every step further down that road toward the police state that the feds march unhindered, we lose a bit more of our legacy as the land of the free.

CobaltGeorge
150097
Points
CobaltGeorge 05/02/13 - 07:21 am
3
1
Freedom

"Damn If We Do & Damn If We Don't"

Brad Owens
4102
Points
Brad Owens 05/02/13 - 08:06 am
7
0
Well of course not...

"(not) a single Watertown resident that admitted to being uncomfortable” with the government’s actions.

That is because we have all been conditioned to respond to "terrorist" attacks with unquestioned obedience to the government's authority and actions.

It would be "unpatriotic" and put "lives in danger" if we did not obey any and all directives from the government in a time of "danger"

Submit, obey and don't question the authorities ... I mean, you're either with "us" or with the terrorist right?

"Why are we in this basket? Where are we going? Why is it so hot in here?"

"Nisus ut Persevero"

Brad

myfather15
49594
Points
myfather15 05/02/13 - 08:28 am
1
0
Some people simply love to

Some people simply love to complain about LE officers when they are protecting and preserving the very freedom they enjoy daily. Again; I'm no big federal government fan and as I've said; I believe this should be done WILLINGLY, not forced. These LE officials have caught a terroist ring that would have killed every single one of you; why can't we be thankful for their service?

No, I don't believe in unquestioned obedience to ANY man or government. People should always question BUT, do the right thing willingly.

It just goes to the old saying "You can please some of the people all the time, but you will never please all the people; even some of the time."

t3bledsoe
14223
Points
t3bledsoe 05/02/13 - 08:37 am
3
0
CobaltGeorge 7:21 comment

I believe this comment is absolutely correct ! Would The AC editorial staff be writing such a letter if the bombing suspect were found in one of these homes ?! Like CobaltGeorge said at 7:21 !!

karradur
2848
Points
karradur 05/02/13 - 09:15 am
2
5
Well now, wait a minute.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/opinion/editorials/2013-04-23/blame-america...

So we don't want to suspend the Constitution when it involves white people, but we do when it's Middle Eastern Muslims.

Got it.

seenitB4
81353
Points
seenitB4 05/02/13 - 10:04 am
2
0
Let us say this

The punk had mega bombs & blew up 5 houses in one block...killed dozens...what would we say then??

CGee is right..

karradur
2848
Points
karradur 05/02/13 - 10:53 am
2
3
@KSL

Wow, my antivirus just lit up like a Christmas tree at that link.

karradur
2848
Points
karradur 05/02/13 - 11:02 am
2
3
@KSL

And it doesn't really matter because nothing will satisfy "birthers". Except for maybe the invention of a time machine to go back to 1961 to witness President Obama's birth firsthand. And even then, they'll probably claim it was all a Truman Show-like production to deceive them.

itsanotherday1
40180
Points
itsanotherday1 05/02/13 - 11:22 am
2
1
Myfather

I didn't take specsta's comments as a slap at all law enforcement; just at those who would suspend constitutional guarantees to achieve their ends. I agree with him 100%.

As much as we protect the rights of criminals, we should double that effort at protecting the rights of citizens.

grouse
1635
Points
grouse 05/02/13 - 11:42 am
0
0
It's wonderful to see The
Unpublished

It's wonderful to see The Chronicle support the ACLU. It's not so wonderful to see sentences beginning with "But" and "And," especially in the same paragraph.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 05/02/13 - 12:36 pm
1
1
Interesting comment: "As much
Unpublished

Interesting comment:

"As much as we protect the rights of criminals, we should double that effort at protecting the rights of citizens."

When does citizenship end, at the point of commiting a crime or upon conviction??

Darby
23589
Points
Darby 05/02/13 - 04:52 pm
3
2
"We gave up our Constitutional rights

with the passage of the Patriot Act"

.
Conspiratorial hogwash!

GiantsAllDay
9063
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/02/13 - 06:14 pm
0
0
Myfather15: you seem like a

Myfather15: you seem like a good guy. (For once)

freeradical
1045
Points
freeradical 05/02/13 - 06:31 pm
0
1
Gun Registery

No need to get your knickers in a bunch .

Once the federal " enhanced " gun registry is established the

authorities ( local , state , fedral ) will much more efficiently go right to

the houses that have firearms and confiscate them to make sure the

big bad terrorists don't take them away from the homeowner ,

thereby making us all safe .

Bless their hearts .

CobaltGeorge
150097
Points
CobaltGeorge 05/02/13 - 07:05 pm
0
1
freeradical

Let them try and see what will happen!

Darby
23589
Points
Darby 05/02/13 - 10:04 pm
1
0
"Once the federal " enhanced " gun

registry is established the......"

folks like myself and others (tens of thousands of others) will become de facto criminals, collecting and storing weapons and ammunition of all types against the day we will be forced to go the way of the patriots of 1776.

I'm not worried. Are you??

Darby
23589
Points
Darby 05/02/13 - 10:07 pm
1
0
"Intimidation trumps civil rights."

Strange, I don't remember it working that way in the '60's.

Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, etc...

Is my memory slipping???

fedex227
10667
Points
fedex227 05/02/13 - 11:59 pm
1
0
Just reading this editorial ...

... "Were the searches of homes entirely constitutional?"

"It’s likely the residents of Boston gladly waived their rights that night."

"We don’t pretend to know the answer ..."

Okay, then don't pretend to be a 'news'paper either. Why not find out the answers to your own questions before opining.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Fire Department raises sought

The Augusta Fire Depart­ment will present a pay raise proposal for firefighters and administrators to the county’s public safety committee Monday.
Search Augusta jobs