The Ottumwa Courier


June 8, 2013

Who was James Otis?

Most Americans can associate some names with our country’s fight for independence from the English Monarchy, which began in earnest in 1775: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams. Few, if any, would credit James Otis. Here is why they should.

It was routine practice for British officials, both in England and the American colonies, to search private residences and businesses without a search warrant. These government officials invaded premises wherever and whenever they so pleased. In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis had the audacity to challenge this practice. Otis advanced the following theory: it was a violation of English constitutional rights for British government officials to search the homes and businesses of the colonists.

While James Otis lost this particular case, he empowered the colonists with a zeal to seek liberty and assert their rights. Specifically, his advocacy culminated in the passage of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

“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.”

Today it is easy for us to take for granted that a police officer will not enter our homes without a warrant, that our vehicles will not be stopped on the road without a reasonable suspicion to justify it and that our cell phones will not be taken by the government just because officials are curious about our communications. We rest secure that the IRS cannot just show up and search our business for files without demonstrating probable cause to believe evidence of a tax crime is present.

These rights have not always existed. For this aspect of our national security, Boston lawyer James Otis deserves much credit. The next article in this series will examine the role of the judiciary in the United States to ensure that the rights set forth in the Fourth Amendment are upheld.

Judge Yates lives in Sigourney and serves as a district court judge, traveling the circuit of Judicial District 8-A’s 10 counties. Recently, he received specialized training at the National Judicial College on search and seizure issues. He may be reached at

Text Only
  • Make Ottumwa Shine offers opportunity We hear a lot of complaints about the condition of our town. Some are justified, others are the kind of carping that happens in any community. But this month shows the difference between those who just want to complain and people who are genuinely in

    May 2, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 4, 2014

  • 1120 OTT Opinion Reiter bw photo -L A running Start The Great American Smokeout is tomorrow. The American Cancer Society has chosen the third Thursday in November for this annual event to encourage smokers to quit. There are still an estimated 43.8 million cigarette smokers in the U.S. and several mil

    November 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • No Headline Provided

    October 25, 2013

  • Be aware of prostate cancer I am very pleased to see the coverage and interest in breast cancer with October designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are about 220,000 new cases of breast cancer reported every year, and it is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths

    October 4, 2013

  • Our View Election a chance to move Ottumwa forward Over the past several days, the Courier sat down with each of the candidates for City Council. Among the candidates are some of the best people we've seen step forward in a very long time. We'll endorse candidates for the general election. What we wa

    October 4, 2013

  • Broadband Internet just the beginning I had the opportunity to meet the broadband delegation from Ottumwa who recently toured Steuben County, Ind. As one of the iMAN Fiber Network team members, I can assure you this was an incredible experience for both of our groups. First, as I've lear

    September 14, 2013

  • Request free utility locates using Iowa One Call technology Iowa homeowners who need to dig on their property have free access to an updated technology tool, iTic Lite, available from Iowa One Call, the organization tasked with promoting the message "Call before you dig in Iowa." For their own safety and that

    September 10, 2013

  • Tell us your survivor story The world is filled with stories. Some make front-page news while others get hidden and are never told. Stories of people who overcome obstacles should have a place to make their voices heard. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Courier

    September 6, 2013

  • School board voting will be a little easier Tuesday The League of Women Voters would like to encourage a greater participation by voters in the upcoming election of school board members. It is encouraging to see a larger number of citizens campaigning to serve their community on the school board. I

    September 6, 2013

AP National