In this concluding portion of our series, we will discuss illegal searches as they relate to an individual's home. The following will serve as a paradigm for exploring police searches of the home;
Were the police allowed to enter the home?
Were the police allowed to search the home?
What was the scope of the permissible search within the home?
The 4th Amendment provides the most safeguards to people in their homes. This stems from colonial America and is one of the foundational principles of the Bill of Rights. The 4th Amendment is premised on the idea that the home is one's castle and the government cannot enter it unless there is good reason to do so. Searches of the home can be separated into two categories, searches with and without warrants. A search absent a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. Without a warrant, police can only search somebody's home if there is exception to the warrant rule. However, this is one the situations in law where it is said the exception swallows the rule.
Searches WITH Warrants
This post will discuss two types of warrants, search warrants and arrest warrants. Arrest warrants will be discussed more as an exception to the warrant rule. A search warrant must be based on probable cause. Probable cause is presented via affidavit which must be signed by a judge or magistrate. Warrants can be defective on the grounds they are 'stale', or based on old information. They can further be defective on the grounds of scope and specificity. There needs to be some guidance as to what can be seized in order to limit officers' discretion. However, it can sometimes be difficult to challenge warrants because of the "good faith exception", often preventing the suppression of evidence where an improper warrant was relied on in good faith.
Searches WITHOUT Warrants
The major recognized exceptions to the warrant requirements are;
1) Consent (standing),
2) Exigent circumstances,
3) Emergency aid,
4) Search incident to arrest,
5) And plain view.
The police may enter a home where there is consent that is freely given. However, from a legal standpoint one must have standing (or the authority) to give consent. Somebody must be more than just a temporary guest in order to give the police permission to search somebody's home (an overnight guest, however, is sufficient). Where there is an immediate and pressing interest in preserving evidence, protecting police/the public, or preventing a suspect from escaping police can enter a home under the 'exigent circumstances' doctrine. Where there is a reasonable belief that somebody is in need of medical attention police may enter a dwelling. However, police must have more than 'speculation that someone inside side may have been injured' in order to justify a warrantless intrusion under this doctrine. As stated above, where an arrest warrant has issued police may enter a home to effectuate that arrest without a separate warrant. This does not allow the police to enter a third party's home and further they will be limited to only conducting a protective sweep within the home. Where a police officer is positioned somewhere he/she is legally allowed to be and can see evidence of a crime that officer can seize the item. The example that is often given is where police sees evidence of a crime through a window, absent an exception, they must still obtain a warrant to enter the home.
Home searches often become relevant in felony cases regarding drug crimes. Frequently law enforcement will conclude their investigation by raiding a home in order to attempt to seize evidence that will make the case. Given that felonies can carry prison, weak or improper evidence is a useful strategy to fight for dismissals, reduced charges, or favorable recommendations at sentencing. The Abdo Law Firm deals with hundreds of criminal cases each year - we are experienced at reviewing evidence to determine if law enforcement is playing by the rules. If you are being charged with a felony or misdemeanor contact us immediately to take advantage of a free consultation.
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