Administrative Search Exception
In the United States, as in most countries, there is a legal principle that individuals have a right to have the police, and other government agencies not to search them and their property except under certain circumstances. In the United States, the Fourth Amendment requires authorities to receive a search warrant based on probable cause for them to search the person or property of anyone. However, not all searches require a probable cause and a search warrant. This exception for a search warrant is known as the administrative search exception. While the Fourth Amendment decrees that police and other government agencies should apply for a search warrant, an analysis of the application of administrative search exception especially in airports finds that it is not always possible, or desirable in the interests of public safety.
The Fourth Amendment mandates all government agencies to receive a search warrant prior to searching the person or the property of an individual. The search warrant itself depends on the police, or other body doing the search having a probable cause which the policies or the person doing the search then has to demonstrate to a judicial officer so that the judicial officer may issue the needed warrant (Primus, 2011). A probable cause refers to a compelling reason that, the person the police want to search, or his property, might possess something incriminating that such an examination is likely to diverge. Furthermore, the failure to do the search would endanger the safety of public, or otherwise fail to reveal evidence that would be necessary for dispensing justice. The Fourth Amendment was among other things meant to ensure the privacy of individuals from the police and government intrusion, and stop the police from obtaining evidence for use in court cases in an illegal and unreasonable manner (Primus, 2011). However, in some cases, the officers do not need to apply for a warrant to search a person or his property. In cases where there are exigent circumstances in which a delay in obtaining the warrant would lead to a defeat of the purpose of search, or where the person to be searched gives the permission, then the officers do not have to obtain a search warrant.
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One of the places where the administrative search is universal for all people is at the airport. Due to the nature of airport, and airplanes which sometimes carry hundreds of people, travel over the air, airports are inherently vulnerable (Robison, 2014). Thus, it is in the interest of public safety, and more particular of the passengers and the airline crew, to search everybody before they reach the boarding area of the airport (Primus, 2011). It presents several administrative search exception issues in searches at the airport. The first one is how to find a balance between the public safety and the privacy of people the security personnel search without violating their Fourth Amendment rights (Robison, 2014). Airline security operatives continue making the searches more pervasive and intruding. Another issue is whether prosecutors can use any evidence that the airport security officers obtain from such searches as evidence in courts and if such happens the court would allow it (Primus, 2011). The third issue is whether an individual can challenge any searches he/she feels are overly obtrusive.
There are several differences between regular searches and warrantless searches that are conducted at the airports. The first difference between the normal searches and airplane searches is that due to the large number of people who travel via airlines each day, and impracticality of applying for search warrants for each one of them, the searches at the airports fall under administrative search (Robison, 2014). The US Circuit Courts explained this in US v Davis in 1973. In this case, the court gave the TSA the authority to carry out searches on the traveling population at the airport without a demonstrable probable cause (Primus, 2011). According to the court, airport searches fall under the “general regulatory scheme” and are thus, “administrative in nature” (Primus, 2011). Consequently, in the court’s view, they do not warrant a probable cause for the search. Secondly, searches at the airport do not require an officer to have a reasonable belief that the person to be searched either is a danger to the officer or the public, or the person being searched or his/her property contains an incriminating evidence (Primus, 2011). Additionally, at the airport, the person undergoing the search does not have to provide consent for the search. Thirdly, unlike in other searches, airport searches usually apply to all the passengers at the airport, and thus, there is little ground for alleging discrimination. However, in some cases, the airport security officers can detain a person for the further search (Primus, 2011). Nevertheless, some people consider these searches to be unauthorized by the persons searched, thus the people have at numerous times challenged the legality of the searches when caught with incriminating evidence since evidence that the police might collect without probable cause can be disregarded by judges.
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One of the most cited cases regarding the airport searches is Terry vs Ohio. Although the facts of the case are applied to a street, rather than in an airport, its facts and the decision of the court have long been applied to an airport situation. In this case, the US Supreme Court held that an officer could search an individual whom the officer reasonably believes could be a danger to the officer or the public. Sometimes, such a search, referred to as a “stop and frisk”, is conducted without a warrant. In this case, the police require less stringent conditions than pronounced under the Fourth Amendment. Furthermore, prosecutors can use any evidence the airport security obtains from such searches in the court. As far as this concerns airport searches, it seems reasonable. Not only are airports more vulnerable places with a large number of people crammed in a limited space, than a typical street in which police might stop and frisk an individual, they are also more prone to dangerous situations. Thus, such a search in an airport would be appropriate.
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Searches in airports, as the court notes, should be carried out under less stringent conditions that under the standards of reasonable proof. An airport presents a special scenario even for airport security and police officers trained to handle such situations due to a large number of people, the frequent movement in the airport, which increases the possibility of escalation of such a dangerous situation in a short period. Thus, one can accede the ruling in Terry vs Ohio would be appropriate in the case of an airport in order to ensure the safety of people in the airport, as well as their property.
In conclusion, it is apparent that in some cases, the administrative search exception applies when the Fourth Amendment rights cannot be applied due to its impracticability, or public safety. While the Fourth Amendment mandates government security agencies to receive a search want prior to searching an individual or his/her property, in some cases, it is not always possible due to exigent circumstances. In airports, it would be impossible to receive a search warrant for all the travelers due to a large number of people and other particular circumstances. Thus, as the court pronounced, the airport searches can be legally conducted under less stringent standards than the ordinary probable search.