BLUFFTON — On a day set aside annually at Bluffton University to celebrate the U.S. Constitution, this year’s program addressed the erosion of many protections set in place by the nation’s founding fathers.
Specifically, the right to privacy and the protection against unreasonable search and seizures was the focus of Tuesday’s event.
A pair of brothers, both judges in Crawford Country and both BU graduates, gave Bluffton students a crash course in the evolution of the Fourth Amendment to the constitution and how activist U.S. Supreme Courts over the past 50 years have chipped away at civil liberties afforded by that amendment.
Sean and Shane Leuthold, judges of the Crawford County common pleas and municipal courts, respectively, presented a forum entitled “The Policy of Stop-and-Frisk and its Impact on American Civil Liberties and the Right to Privacy” during Bluffton University’s annual Constitutional Day program.
All educational institutions that receive federal funds are required to offer an instructional seminar each year on or near Sept. 17, the day the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787.
The basic tenet of the Fourth Amendment as written, said Sean Leuthold, protects citizens’ privacy by requiring a search warrant and the presence of probable cause that a crime has been committed before a person’ private property can be searched.
The first real law enforcement resistance to the probable cause requirement surfaced during the Prohibition era, Leuthold said, when FBI agents found it difficult to stop bootleggers under the existing restrictions. The Supreme Court sided with the FBI and allowed warrantless searches, he said.
The high court struck again in 1968 when it ruled that “reasonable suspicion “ was all that was necessary in order to search a property or person.
“And that has been the law of the land ever since,” Leuthold said.
Under the “reasonable suspicion “ edict, police today may legally order a driver to exit a vehicle, frisk the driver and search easily accessed areas of the vehicle without a warrant, probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, his brother added.
“Your generation has access to more information that ever before,” Sean Leuthold told students. “But at the same time, you have less privacy than ever before.”
“How far have we come? How much privacy to you really have?” his brother Shane asked, reciting a litany of recent instances where residents’ protection from unreasonable search and seizures have given way to a growing number of police powers.
“All these Supreme Court decisions are rooted in technology and politics, and they will all continue,” Shane Leuthold told the BU students. “At this rate, in 15 to 20 years the Fourth Amendment will be meaningless. As you go forward, you must ask yourself, ‘Do we care about privacy?’ It’s your decision to make.”