SMU Law Review


Searches intrude; fundamentally, they infringe on a right to exclude. So that right should form the basis of Fourth Amendment protections. Current Fourth Amendment doctrine—the reasonable expectation of privacy test—struggles with conceptual clarity and predictability. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade casts further doubt on the reception of other privacy-based approaches with this Court. But the replacement approach that several Justices on the Court favor, what I call the “maximalist” property approach, risks troublingly narrow results. This Article provides a new alternative: Fourth Amendment protection should be anchored in a flexible concept derived from property law—what this Article terms a “situational right to exclude.” When a searchee has a right to exclude some law-abiding person from the thing to be searched, in some circumstance, the government must obtain a warrant before gathering information from that item. Keeping the government out is warranted when an individual has a situational right to exclude; it is exactly then that the government must get a warrant.



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