In the 1780s, not all Americans supported the Constitution. These people had just fought a long, bloody war to rid themselves of a strong central government. Many of them did not want to create another one. So, the Founding Fathers added the Fourth Amendment, which limits the government’s search and seizure power, to the Constitution.
Contrary to popular belief, this provision does not prohibit warrantless searches and seizures. It only prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Over the years, the Supreme Court has designated several reasonableness exceptions to the warrant requirement. The major exceptions are discussed below.
Search and seizure issues are especially important in possession cases, such as drug possession cases. If prosecutors cannot produce the physical evidence, the case collapses like a house of cards. So, a good Dayton criminal defense lawyer usually attacks this part of the case if at all possible. These attacks begin with a solid understanding of the most common search warrant exceptions.
If officers see contraband, like weapons, drugs, or illegal pornography, in plain view, those officers can seize the evidence then and there. They need not wait for a warrant. This exception only applies if the officers were lawfully in that place at that time.
So, the reasonable suspicion requirement often comes into play in these situations. Generally, before they detain people, officers must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Essentially, some evidence of wrongdoing needs to exist for an officer to have reasonable suspicion. A clear legal violation, like a traffic violation, also constitutes reasonable suspicion.
An officer’s instincts, no matter how well-developed and valid they are, are not enough. Law enforcement officers cannot detain people because they do not “look right.”
Speaking of illegal pornography, smartphone searches are generally not subject to the plain view exception. Defendants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in everything except the home screen. So, if officers want to scroll through your text messages or downloaded files, they usually need a warrant first.
Property owners, or apparent owners, may consent to property searches. That property could be something big, like a house, or something tiny, like a smartphone.
An apparent owner is someone like a vehicle driver who does not legally own the car. Apparent ownership is limited. A roommate whose name is not on the lease can probably consent to common area searches. This person can probably not consent to bedroom searches. This person can definitely not consent to backpack searches, even if the backpack is in a common area.
Consent is a voluntary, affirmative, revocable act. If officers threaten to get a warrant if the owner does not consent, that permission might not be voluntary. As for affirmative act, opening the door for officers might be assent, but it is not consent. Finally, owners can revoke consent if officers go too far.
If officers believe someone is in trouble, they may enter the building without a warrant and seize any contraband they see within plain view.
A domestic disturbance call is a good example. If no one answers the door, officers can usually go inside and make sure everyone is okay. Other kinds of disturbance calls, like a report of a loud party, might suffice as well. But the argument is shaky.
These warrantless searches can only be security sweeps. Officers cannot open drawers or cabinets and they cannot look into every nook and cranny. Furthermore, they usually cannot enter areas like a detached garage or free-standing tool shed.
Police officers may seize evidence of a crime in certain situations without a warrant. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Dayton criminal defense attorney, contact The VanNoy Firm. Home and jail visits are available.
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