That Amendment Doesn’t Mean What You Think It MeansSpend any time on social media and you’re bound to run into them: the so-called Constitutional scholars who earned their stripes listening to news shows or following attorneys on Twitter. We used to think that these folks were harmless, and perhaps they are – but we’re seeing some disturbing trends when it comes to understanding the basic rights granted by our nation’s founders.

So today, we want to talk a bit about what some of these Amendments really say.

The First Amendment

The First Amendment states “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.”

While some people may have their own theories, thoughts, and misunderstandings about the First Amendment, this amendment explains that people have freedom when it comes to expression, assembly, religion, and the right to petition. Therefore, the government cannot tell you what you like or do not like, and it cannot forbid you to form groups and gather peacefully.

Congress is also not allowed to promote one religion over another religion as well as restrict any person’s religious practices or preferences. In addition, all individuals and the press have the right to speak and give their opinions freely.

HOWEVER, you should know that the freedom of speech and expression is not the same as freedom from consequences. Contrary to popular opinion, it is perfectly legal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater – but the owner of that theater has every right to ban you from the business if there was not, indeed, a fire.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment states the following:

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 focuses on searches. A person’s home is their safe and secure place, where they are free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Therefore, before a search can happen it must be considered reasonable, which is determined by two key factors. The first factor is that it does not go against the person’s Fourth Amendment rights, and the second factor is that it must be a real government interest like public safety.

Search and seizures in an individual’s home without a warrant are typically unreasonable, but there are exceptions. Some of the exceptions for a warrantless search include:

  • The items are in plain sight
  • Law enforcement is given permission to search
  • The search is likely to lead to a lawful arrest
  • There is probable cause as well as an urgent and demanding reason to search

Read More: Maryland Court Rules Authorities Must Limit Cellphone Searches

The Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment states:

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.

This amendment is used as a protection of peoples’ rights in a variety of civil and criminal legal cases. You may have heard someone say they “plead the Fifth” or “take the Fifth.” This means they are refusing to answer your question. This saying comes from the Fifth Amendment as it provides protection against self-incrimination. With this protection, you have the right to refuse to answer any questions or speak to any person who is involved in your criminal investigation if you think that your statements could be used against you and make you appear guilty.

The Fifth Amendment also provides due process rights, which means that the government cannot take a person’s right to property, life, or liberty without proof that they have committed a crime. Due process also means that all legal procedures must be followed in a criminal hearing. Therefore, an individual who has been arrested for a crime must be informed of  the charges against them, their right not to speak, and that they have the right to get a lawyer.

Double jeopardy is also covered under this amendment, which means that an individual cannot be tried or committed for the exact same crime more than once. It also gives people the right to a grand jury if they are facing state and federal felony charges. A grand jury is a group of people who investigate and determine what type of criminal charges a person will face if they are found guilty.

Read More: The Pandemic Caused Mass Violations of Constitutional Rights

Bonus: Section 230 means something else, too

Section 230 states the following: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It also states:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to materials.

Section 230 gives immunity to website platforms that have online information provided by third parties. Therefore, they cannot be held liable for anything posted on their platforms by other parties. In addition, websites such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are allowed to develop and apply their own policies on what type of content they will allow or not allow on their sites.

Carey Law Office can help you when it comes to all of your Constitutional rights. If you need assistance or would like to learn more information, please do not hesitate to call our office, or submit our contact form. You can also visit one of our office locations in Crofton or Bowie at your convenience. Our team serves Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Calvert County, and the surrounding areas.