Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676), a legendary English common-law scholar, was born in Alderley, Gloucestershire, England. Orphaned at the age of five, Hale was placed in the care of Vicar John Staunton by his guardian, Anthony Kingscote. Educated according to Puritan values, Hale entered Oxford University in 1626 with the goal of taking holy orders. Although numerous diversions detached him from his religious pursuits, he eventually returned to his studies with a newfound passion for the law. His legal principles influenced many areas of U.S. law, including the Fourth Amendment.
Hale began his legal career in 1637 when he was called to the bar. As an attorney, he counseled many notable figures, including Archbishop William Laud, First Earl of Strafford Thomas Wentworth, and several members of British Parliament. Through his appointment to the Committee for Law Reform (commonly referred to as the Hale Commission) in 1652, Hale also worked to advise Parliament on reforms intended to produce far-reaching improvements in the law and legal system. In 1654, Hale accepted a judgeship in the Court of Common Pleas from Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Although he declined to continue his term under Lord Protector Richard Cromwell's reign, Hale embraced the appointment to lord chief baron of the exchequer by King Charles II in 1660. After a decade of service, he was elevated to chief justice of the King's Bench, an office he maintained until 1676 when failing health led to his resignation.
As a firm believer in common law, Hale advocated a system of law based on court decisions, the doctrines implicit in those decisions, and customs and usages rather than codified written laws. Within this legal system, individuals were also protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, in balancing the rights of individuals to protect their homes with the ability of law enforcement officials to carry out the law, Hale upheld knock and announce principles permitting entry into homes as long as officers declared their intentions and had their requests for entry denied. While common-law principles can be found interwoven throughout the U.S. legal system, this is especially the case when examining the historic roots of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Tracing its roots to the common-law principles embraced by Hale, the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect an individual's right to secure his or her person, home, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring the establishment of probable cause in order to make arrests, conduct searches, and obtain warrants. Although knock and announce principles were not articulated in the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld these practices in Wilson v. Arkansas (1995). Turning to precedents set forth by English common-law searches and seizures, precedents Hale helped to shape, the Court upheld the constitutionality of knock and announce practices on the grounds that the reasonableness of searching a dwelling depended, in part, on whether law enforcement officers announced their presence and authority prior to entering.
Hale died in 1676 but has remained a prominent figure in the history of common law. While there are critics who continue to scrutinize his legal work and legacy, Hale has emerged as a prominent English common-law jurist who is credited for writing numerous influential books and treatises, including Contemplations Moral and Divine, History of the Common Law of England, and The History of the Pleas of the Crown.
See also Knock and Announce Rule; Wilson v. Arkansas (1995).
- "Fourth Amendment First Principles." Harvard Law Review 107 (1994): 757-819. .
- "The Origins of Historical Jurisprudence: Coke, Selden, Hale." Yale Law Journal 103 (1994): 1651-1738.
- Sir Matthew Hale, 1609-1676: Law, Religion, and Natural Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. .
- "An Accusation Easily to Be Made? Rape and Malicious Prosecution in Eighteenth-Century England." American Journal of Legal History 42 (1998): 351-390. .
- "Sir Matthew Hale and Witchcraft." Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 17 (1926): 5-12. .
Related Credo Articles
Hale, Sir Matthew (1609-76), lawyer who was noted for his impartiality during the Civil War and who became lord chief justice under Charles II. Bor
Hale was Abp. Laud's counsel on his impeachment in 1643 and later took on several other politically unpopular defences. In 1648...
1609-76 English judge Born in Alderley, Gloucestershire, he studied at Oxford. He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1628, and in 1637 was called to the Bar. H