United States Government/The Bill of Rights

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Contents Colonial America - Articles of Confederation - The Constitutional Convention - Ratification - The Three Branches - The Federal System - General Provisions - The Bill of Rights - The Later Amendments - Legislative Branch - Executive Branch - Judicial Branch

First Amendment[edit]

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The First Amendment is the best-known amendment to most Americans. It provides, firstly, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Basically, this means that Congress cannot make one religion official, or require people to worship in a certain way. The courts have interpreted the clause to mean that, in addition to Congress, the executive and judicial branch, as well as the states, cannot prohibit free exercise of religion. Thomas Jefferson referred to these prohibitions as "separation of church and state".

The First also allows free speech to people. This has been interpreted to mean free action, as well. However, as one Supreme Court Justice put it, "My right to swing my arm stops at another man's chin." One cannot use free speech rights to violate the rights of other people.

Also, the First guarantees people the right to assemble peacefully, and to petition the government.Also keep your hands to yourself

Second Amendment[edit]

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The Second Amendment, subject to much controversy, forbids the outlawing of firearms and militias.

Third Amendment[edit]

"No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."


Soldiers, according to the Third, may not during peacetime be quartered or housed in a residence without the consent of the owner. Furthermore, even in wartime, a law is required to force people to quarter soldiers.

The Supreme Court and others have also attributed a right to personal privacy within this amendment this is true

Fourth Amendment[edit]

The fourth amendment of the United States Constitution reads as follows:

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.

The fourth amendment can be broken into two distinct parts. The first part provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, although unreasonable has been defined in a myraid of different ways. However, the framers did not qualify how a violation of this amendment was to be punished. Case law has afforded the exclusionary rule to ensure that evidence improperly collected is excluded from trial. (See Wolf v. Colorado, Mapp v. Ohio, and United States v. Leon for more information on the progression of the exclusionary rule.) This gives law enforcement officers the incentive to respect the amendment.

The second part of the amendment provides for the proper issue of warrants. However, it is important to note that it does not require that warrants be obtained prior to a search or seizure, only that searches and seizures are reasonable. When warrants are issued, their must be probable cause. Probable cause is tested using the "totality of circumstances" test as defined in Illinois v. Gates. (See Spinelli v. United States and Illinois v. Gates for the progression on probable cause tests. Also see Maryland v. Garison and Richards v. Wisconsin for more on search warrants.)

Interesting Search and Seizure Cases

  • http://www.wdnweb.com/2011/02/17/city-beefs-up-code/
  • Katz v. United States: use of electronic eavesdropping by law enforcement
  • California v. Greenwood: examination of curbside garbage
  • Florida v. Riley: use of aerial surveillance by law enforcement
  • United States v. Karo: use of electronic tracking by law enforcement
  • Kyllo v. United States: use of thermal imaging by law enforcement

Fifth Amendment[edit]

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."


While the Fourth protects one against the police, the Fifth guarantees one's rights relating to actual charges of criminal activity. Firstly, the Fifth requires that a Grand Jury (a special body of lay-people) indict, or accuse, a person of a serious crime before he or she may be tried for it. The sole exception relates to the military, where Grand Juries are not used.

2: the Amendment prohibits "double jeopardy." Once a person has been tried and acquitted (found not guilty), the prosecutor cannot retry him, even if new evidence is discovered. However, the prohibition against double jeopardy does not extend to mistrials. If a jury cannot reach a verdict and the judge declares a mistrial, then the case may be retried.

3: the Amendment provides that one cannot be compelled to testify against oneself. A person may "take the Fifth" to avoid incriminating him or herself. However, the government may grant immunity, or formal protection from prosecution, to a person. Then, the person cannot be punished for what crimes he might have committed, and can be forced to give evidence.

4: the Fifth requires due process to be used. While due process is not defined in the Constitution, one may conclude that it involves fair trials with impartial juries and judges.

5: the Fifth prohibits government from taking away a person's property unless it provides fair compensation.

Sixth Amendment[edit]

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Seventh Amendment[edit]

"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Trial by jury in common law cases

Eighth Amendment[edit]

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

bail, cruel, and unusual punishment

Ninth Amendment[edit]

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Rights retained by the people

Tenth Amendment[edit]

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Tenth Amendment prevents the Union government from regulating a matter it is not constitutionally entitled to regulate. The Union government, therefore, cannot infringe upon a state's reserved powers.

Conclusion[edit]