Search and Seizure: Legal Aspects

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The case involving Officer James is illustrating the challenges law enforcement faces when it comes to search and seizure requirements. In this situation, James sees the victim (i.e. Hank Roberts) laying on the ground and being treated by paramedics. There are also reports of gun fire and the perpetrator possibly inside the property.

Officer James is thinking about entering the property. To determine if these actions are lawful requires carefully examining different aspects of search and seizure. This will be accomplished by focusing on the requirements, legal guidelines, problems, when a warrant is necessary and strategies utilized by defense attorneys at trial. Together, elements will demonstrate if Officer James is making the right decision to enter the residence.

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How do search and seizure requirements relate to the investigative process?
Search and seizure requirements are covered by the Fourth Amendment. This states that the police must obtain a search warrant to go into the private residence of someone or their personal papers. During the process, law enforcement will present evidence to a judge demonstrating how a crime is occurring or was committed. This is based upon probable cause. Probable cause is a principle which states the officer must believe that a crime is taking place or just recently occurred. This allows them to present evidence showing how a warrant must be issued to enforce the law. (Woody, 2006) (Adams, 2012)

What are the legal guidelines?
The law specifically requires obtaining a warrant based upon probable cause. Previous case precedent has concluded that there are specific circumstances when the police do not need to have a warrant to conduct a search. These include: in motor vehicles, boats, when consent is given, the evidence is in plain sight, at the border and in extreme circumstances. In the case of Officer James, extreme circumstances would apply. This is when he can enter the house without a warrant. As he believes a crime is in the process of being committed and there is an imminent danger to others. (Woody, 2006) (Adams, 2012)

What problems might be encountered?
The problems that might be encountered include questions from the defense about the actions taken by Officer James. This will occur after he enters the residence and may or may not find anyone there. In this case, the defense will try to make it appear as if Officer James was aggressively enforcing the law. Moreover, there is the probability the perpetrator is still inside and waiting to ambush Officer James. He has the power from previous court rulings to use deadly force to protect himself. This means that he can return fire and physically harm the assailant in the process of apprehending them. (Woody, 2006) (Adams, 2012)

When is a warrant necessary and why?
A warrant is necessary during times when the police believe that crime is about to or in the process of being committed. They have to present their evidence to a judge showing this. It is at this point, they will provide law enforcement with a written document allowing them to go into the property. This is to prevent the police from raiding anyone’s house or place of business based upon uncorroborated reports. Instead, they must demonstrate why they want to go into the location and how is it relevant to their investigation. (Stephen, 2012) (Adams, 2012)

However, there are times, when they can circumvent the law. For instance, the USA Patriot Act allows law enforcement to conduct warrantless surveillance when they believe a person, group or organization is involved in terrorist activities. This is to prevent them from being successful in achieving their objectives and reduce the risks to the general public. (Adams, 2012)

In what ways can a defense attorney attack search and seizure issues at trial?
The best approach a defense attorney can use is to show how there was no possible threat. This occurs through questioning the actions of the officer by not calling out to anyone or interviewing people in the vicinity. Instead, they simply assume there is a crime taking place without investigating.

Moreover, if the threat was a danger to everyone, why didn’t they coordinate with other officers? During a trial; the defense could use this to show that the police overreacted and entered the premises without a warrant. It is at this point, any evidence could be suppressed under the poison tree doctrine. As a result, the best techniques are to question, evaluate and analyze the decisions of law enforcement. (Woody, 2006) (Adams, 2012)

  • Adams, J. (2012). Prosecutors Manual for Arrest, Search and Seizure. Newark, NJ: Lexus Nexus.
  • Stephen, J. (2012). Officer’s Search and Seizure Handbook. Charlottesville, VA: Lexus Nexus.
  • Woody, R. (2006). Search and Seizure. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

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