Grade: Middle

#2762. 4th Amendment Rights

Social Studies, level: Middle
Posted Tue Dec 10 16:08:59 PST 2002 by Rick Del Bonta, Danny Henning, Joey Feinstein, Jennifer Webb (

Search and Seizure: When can authorities search my belongings and me? A lesson plan on the fourth amendment for special education students of high school age.

Prepared by:
David Jennings
Joey Feinstein
Jennifer Webber
Rick Del Bonta


Civil liberties, particularly those represented by the Bill of Rights have become more and more a focus of the news. In the light of terrorist threats, Americans seem to be asking the worth of certain rights. But more importantly for us as teachers, for many students, especially those of color, the rights guaranteed by the fourth amendment have long been a source of frustration and unrest. For many of these students, a walk down the street can be routinely interrupted by police who stop them for questioning and in many instances search them with little regard for the law. A discussion and study of laws directly affecting these students can only serve to protect their rights. Moreover furthering that discussion into how a student should go about protecting his rights without endangering his freedom is necessary.


The students in these classes are academically and/or chronologically 11th graders. Because they are special ed students their skills levels may vary from 5th to 9th grade. Most are of color and most are from the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. All have experience with authority either real or fabricated so that the student seems "one of the crowd."


At the conclusion of this lesson students will be able to
Identify the Bill of Rights as a set of laws, which guarantee them certain rights.
Demonstrate a knowledge of the fourth amendment and in particular various
aspects of law that search and seizure may cover.
Define search and seizure within its legal limits
Respond to simulations which demand a knowledge of the law with the correct
Define a search warrant and when one is needed.
Demonstrate the proper way to handle themselves when confronted with
authorities who are misinterpreting the bounds of search and seizure.

California Content Standards addressed by this lesson plan:

12.2 Students evaluate and take and define positions on the scope and limits of rights and objectives as democratic citizens, the relationship among them, and how they are secured.
12.2.1 Discuss the meaning and importance of each of the rights under the Bill of Rights and obligations as democratic citizens.

WEB Sights constituting a bibliography for this lesson plan:

Length of lesson:

Depending on the interest of the students, this lesson should take three class periods.


1. Students should be asked if any in the class have ever been stopped on the street by police for no apparent reason. The response should be affirmative; if not, ask if the students know of anyone who has been stopped in the street. After the "yes" answer, ask if the students have ever been searched for if they know of anyone who has been searched. (The teacher should take care that this is not a discussion. Given the nature of the students and the subject, it would be entirely too easy to let the class get out of hand.) Then ask if anyone in the class knows what their rights are in this situation. The students will protest that they do, but most of their protestation is based on street knowledge, television or a "wished-for" reality.
2. Present the following scenario;
Joe is walking down the street. The police stop him because he resembles someone who may have been involved in a robbery. They pat Joe down and in doing so feel a suspicious bag in his jacket pocket. They remove it and find it contains marijuana. Is Joe busted for possession? Was it a legal search? The students will clamor that it was illegal. They're right. But why? That is where the fourth amendment comes in
3. Pass out copies of the fourth amendment and read it.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. (1) 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."
4. Pass out the following handout and go over it as a group

Search and Seizure Handout:
First you must determine if the police activity is a search.
A. If yes, go to #2 below.
B. If no, the fourth amendment doesn't apply
If the activity is a search, you must then determine if the police activity is reasonable.
What is a reasonable search?
A. To be a reasonable search, it must be based on a search warrant issued when there is a probable cause.
B. Requirements for a search warrant.
1. Each search warrant can allow the search of only one person, place or vehicle.
2. The warrant must identify the exact area to be searched.
3. The warrant must state what type of property is being searched for.
4. The police officer must sear under oath that the information he is giving is true
5. The warrant must be issued by a neutral and properly authorized judge.
6. The person issuing the warrant must believe that there is probable cause.
i. probable cause to search - evidence that leads a reasonable person to believe that if he looks in a specific place he would find specific criminal goods.
ii. Probable cause to arrest - evidence that leads a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been committed and the person to be arrested is the one who committed the crime.
Exceptions to the search warrant and/or probable cause requirements:
A. Search incidents to a lawful arrest - the police can search a person and his immediately surrounding area for hidden weapons or evidence that could be destroyed (probable cause is not needed.
B. Automobile Search is reasonable if the police officer has probable cause to believe there is contraband in the car.
C. Stop and frisk - the police officer must reasonable think a person is behaving suspiciously and may be armed.
D. Voluntary consent - if a person agrees, the police can conduct a search without a search warrant or probable cause.
E. Hot pursuit - if police are in hot pursuit of a suspect they do not have to get a search warrant to enter a building they have seen the suspect enter. The can also seize evidence they find while in pursuit of a felon.
F. Emergency situations - sometimes police do not have time to get a warrant because of some emergency situation like a bomb scare, a person's life is in danger, or some other urgent situation.
G. Border and airport searchers - custom agents may search without probable cause or a warrant.

5. The handout should be defined and discussed. Students might be asked to present samples of the different points being made. The important points should be emphasized: police can only search for probable cause, that if you are stopped by the police you do not have to give your permission to be searched, that the police must act in a reasonable way.
6. The following samples should be presented to the class, and a discussion should ensue as to what is the correct procedure in each according to the handout they have received.
A. The policed stop a young man on the street because they believe he may be involved in a fight which has taken place, but only because he resembles a description. They pat him down and feel a suspicious bag in his pocket. Do they have the right to remove the bag to see what is inside? (The answer is no for two reasons: a) he is not being stopped because the police believe he may be carrying contraband and b) the suspicious bulge does not resemble a weapon which would pose a threat to the police.
B. Two young men are walking down the street and the police stop them because they resemble two fugitives. After getting ID, they discover that the two are not the fugitives they are looking for but are wanted on another warrant. Do they have the right to search and seize. (Yes they do, because there is an open warrant for them.)
C. Police pull over a young man for going through a red light which he did. Do they have the right to search his car? (The answer is no because there is no reasonable belief that he has committed any other crime.
7. More examples can be examined, but all must be examined in light of the hand out. It is important for the students to realize that everything that is being done is according to the law, not what they feel is right and wrong.
8. The last part of this lesson is the toughest. The teacher can start out by telling the students that more juveniles are arrested after being stopped on the street, not for what they are carrying or for what they have done, but for they way they act when being questioned by the police. If the class is up to it, a role-play can be played with the teacher as the youth on the street and one of the students acting as the police officer. Have the student begin to question the youth (teacher) and the teacher in turn respond with non-compliant answers and threats of reporting the officer, etc. Get the students to realize that the police officer is probably going to react not to the lawfulness of the situation, but to the way the kid is acting.
9. Time for the next handout.

When stopped by the police on the street handout.

If you are stopped by the police, do everything you are told without being smart-alecky about it.

If questioned, answer with short answers, which are truthful. Do not volunteer information if not asked for it.

If the police asked to search you, you need not allow him do so whether you are carrying contraband or not. If the police insist on searching you, you can ask if you are under arrest.

If you believe the police are doing something illegal, it will do you no good to protest at that time. Remember as well as you can everything that they do, when they do it and how they do it. As soon as the incident is over or at the first opportunity you have, write down the facts of the incident as best you can remember them.

Do no at any time act in any way to antagonize or threaten the police. Remember the law is on your side no matter what the circumstances

10. The teacher can role-play the principles above to show the students what they should and should not do.
11. You should also remember that there are members of the Public Defender's Office and even the Police Department who will help in this presentation.