Growing up in Europe, I didn't get much US history, and even less about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That got remedied very quickly last night. We got the Cliff Notes version of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, and how they impact law enforcement. —especially our "living" Constitution which keeps evolving.
The 4th Amendment deals with unreasonable search and seizure. With few exceptions, a search requires a warrant, which in turn requires probably cause. In all states, "search" and "probable cause" are determined by case law. Turns out my state, Connecticut, is one of the most protective of citizens' rights, thereby imposing added restrictions on the police force. (Texas and southern states tend to give law officers fewer restrictions - or so I've been told.)
There are, however, several exceptions to the warrant rule. The ones I found most interesting from a writer's point of view include:
- Plain feel - if, during a pat down, the officer has reason, based on prior experience, to suspect a gun, rock cocaine, etc., he may conduct a search without a warrant.
- Open fields - "open fields" such as pastures, open water, and woods may be searched without a warrant, on the ground that conduct occurring therein would have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Watch out for those marijuana beds!
- Curtilage (I love that word) Only the outdoor area immediately surrounding a home requires a warrant— generally within two to three feet of the house or in an open garage. Areas outside the curtilage, including separate structures (barns, studios), do not required search warrants.
- Motor vehicle/Inventory - a motor vehicle stopped for "reasonable" suspicion can be searched because it is moveable. If the driver is arrested for any reason, police are required to make an inventory of all items in the vehicle (to protect themselves against allegations of theft). However, they may not extend the search to the vehicle's passengers without probable cause or consent. Similarly, if a car is found abandoned or illegally parked, an officer may search inside before the car is towed, but not after.
- Public Schools. The Supreme Court ruled that searches in public schools do not require warrants, as long as the searching officers have reasonable grounds for believing that the search will result in the finding of evidence of illegal activity. [based on NJ vs. T.L.O. (1985)] Similarly government offices may be searched for evidence of work-related misconduct by government employees.
Ernesto Arturo Miranda was arrested, based on circumstantial evidence, for to the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old woman. After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda signed a confession. However, at no time was Miranda told of his right to counsel, and he was not advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements would be used against him. The judge ruled his confession inadmissible. But wait . . . he was subsequently tried and convicted—without use of the confession—and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment.
After his release, Miranda was murdered in a bar fight. The suspect, a Mexican national, was released and supposedly fled to Mexico. The Miranda murder case was closed without the murderer ever being apprehended. What goes around . . .
Take aways from Week 3:
- Warrants must be specific in terms of what the police are searching for and where they intend to search. For example, if they are searching for a body, they cannot open a desk drawer because there is in reasonable cause to believe the drawer could contain a body.
- Mirandizing is not required
- In cases of a dying declaration - it is assumed that a dying person, even if implicating himself or another person, is telling the truth and volunteering the information.
- Spontaneous utterances. And these are a lot more common than you'd expect. Our instructors say that if you don't question a suspect, but just let him stew or ramble, he will very often implicate himself.
- Search warrants are good for one time only, and have a 10-day expiration period. This is not true for wiretaps.
- Phone companies will not track the GPS in a phone for police. But there are apps which an individual can download and access to assist the police in the case of a stolen phone.