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Magna Carta principles still a hot topic in courts even after 800 years

Volume of Fourth Amendment court cases shows Magna Carta principles are still relevant today

EAGAN, Minn., June 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Some of the hottest judicial topics this year from the U.S. Supreme Court to Congress trace themselves to principles embedded in Magna Carta more than 800 years ago, demonstrating how the historic document remains as relevant today as it did then.

Protections against "unreasonable searches or seizures," a Magna Carta principle that found its way into the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is at the heart of a major case that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on later this month. City of Los Angeles v. Patel involves a city ordinance that requires hotels and motels to keep guest registries and make them available to police, without permission from a judge. In December of 2013, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court struck down the ordinance, saying it violated the Fourth Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches.

And it's not just the Supreme Court that is busy debating unreasonable search and seizure cases. According to data from Thomson Reuters Westlaw, the leading legal research service, the Fourth Amendment was referenced in more than 5,000 federal district court cases in the past year,

The Fourth Amendment protects people and their property from unreasonable searches and seizures. Like much of the Bill of Rights, the Fourth Amendment can be traced to Magna Carta, which was issued by King John of England in 1215, and marked the establishment of many legal principles involving individual rights and property ownership that have become the foundation of modern rule of law.

"The volume of cases on Westlaw indicates a great deal of judicial resources are spent on Fourth Amendment rights," explains Westlaw Reference Attorney Angela Haukebo. "Nearly 5 percent of federal district court opinions on Westlaw from the last year reference either the Fourth Amendment, or unreasonable or unlawful searches or seizures."

The Fourth Amendment also was at the heart of a congressional debate earlier this month over key provisions of the Patriot Act that had expired. Among the concerns was a National Security Agency program – exposed in 2013 by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden – that collected the phone records of millions of Americans.

Some legislators' opposition to the program was rooted in the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The USA Freedom Act that Congress passed and President Obama signed restored some of the Patriot Act provisions, but bars the N.S.A. from continuing its bulk data collection.

Other rights and protections codified in the U.S. Constitution that have their roots in Magna Carta continue to be debated in courts as well, Westlaw data shows.

Part of the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury during a criminal proceeding. Westlaw data reveals that the concept of "right to a speedy trial" alone was referenced in close to 1,000 federal district court cases in the last year.

The concept of "right to a jury trial" in both criminal and civil cases was referenced in the past year in about 1,600 federal district court cases, according to Westlaw data. The cases reference the Seventh Amendment in several contexts, including waivers, types of offenses guaranteed the right, and self-representation.

The Great Charter's influence on the rule of law, even after eight centuries, shows that Magna Carta remains the bedrock foundation for several key areas of modern law.

Scott Augustin
Thomson Reuters
[email protected]


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SOURCE Thomson Reuters Westlaw

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