The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Evan M. McGuire


The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable government intrusion. The government must establish probable cause and obtain a warrant to search a particular location. However, there are minute Fourth Amendment distinctions at various levels of police-citizen interaction which act as exceptions to the general rule. Officers may approach a citizen for any reason as long as a reasonable person in their place would feel able to escape the officer’s advances. Ultimately, abuse of this exception to Fourth Amendment protections occurs frequently, especially when it comes to minority populations. The police can conduct a search without a warrant if there is reasonable suspicion which warrants a governmental intrusion. However, police officers sometimes mask their suspicion as a consensual conversation with a citizen in order to yield information which necessitates further intrusion. This abuse of power lies in the Supreme Court’s standard of the reasonable person. The concept of a reasonable person, based on an idealized individual, is not reality. The standard describes an individual who is not afraid of the use of authority by police officers when, in fact, many individuals do not feel free to leave their encounters with police. The current reasonable person standard disregards societal and community influences and perceptions of authority. Due to systemic wrongdoings of police officers in minority communities, the distrust of law enforcement is reasonable and should not help calculate whether adequate grounds for reasonable suspicion exist. Treating police officers as regular citizens who can platonically approach citizens is irresponsible. We must acknowledge human nature in order to achieve a fair and accurate representation of the validity of consent. Social science research utilized for the good of communities can help to redefine future encounters through informed judicial application.

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St. Mary's University School of Law