Tag Archive: Fourth Amendment

No Knock Entry: It’s Not Just For Breaking and Entering

On Friday, November 19, 2010, Fox aired the episode “Supercops” of the show The Good Guys.  The show follows Detectives Dan Stark and Jack Bailey of the Dallas Police Department, played by Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, respectively.  This episode follows Stark and Bailey as they investigate a diamond theft.  The investigation takes Stark and Bailey to many locations in Dallas.  While the detectives are following multiple leads, the owners of the diamonds, who are criminals, are chasing the thieves as well.

After Stark finds new information regarding the theft, he and Bailey go to the suspects’ home to follow up on the lead.  At this point in the investigation, there is not sufficient evidence to give probable cause for a warrant to search any location.  The detectives arrive at the home of two men who had previously been questioned during the investigation.  While approaching the house, they spot bullet holes in the windows.  The two detectives immediately become suspicious and enter the home as if it were an unsafe environment.  Their entrance into the house occurs without a warrant and without knocking.

In criminal procedure, officers must have reasonable suspicion to justify certain actions that may infringe on individual rights. The Fourth Amendment protects a person from unlawful searches and seizures.  A search and/or seizure can be authorized with a warrant.  A warrant is only to be issued if authorities can show probable cause.  The guidelines for warrantless searches are not included in the Constitution.

Exigent circumstances allow officers to conduct a search without a warrant or to conduct a no knock entry when one is not authorized in the warrant.  Exigent circumstances require that people be in imminent danger, that evidence might be destroyed or that a suspect might be escaping. In the episode, the bullet holes in the window imply gun fire,  and that people may be in danger inside the home.  The officers seeing indications of danger and knowing the gravity of the theft they are investigating, likely have sufficient reason to be alarmed.  This would satisfy the requirements of the exigent circumstances for a warrantless entrance.

False Friends

After Sunday’s “Circle Us” episode of the Showtime series Dexter, the show’s namesake seems to have fully let Lumen Pierce into his life.  Ever since Dexter first encounters Lumen being held captive by the rapist/serial killer Boyd Fowler, he is unsure of what to do with her.  Since she witnesses first hand Dexter killing Boyd letting her go did not seem be an option.   On the other hand Dexter must follow The Code, which permits him to only kill those who have killed and will likely kill again.  Faced with the dilemma of neither being able to let Lumen go nor kill her, Dexter initially keeps her locked up in a secluded area.  During Lumen’s captivity Dexter attempts to convince her he is not going to kill her, but given the circumstances he did not have much luck.  Once Lumen was able to escape her captivity, Dexter is forced to make a decision on what to do with her.  Instead of locking Lumen back up he shows her the bodies of Boyd’s victim and explains to her that if he hadn’t killed Boyd she would have been next.  Afterward, Lumen accepts the fact that Dexter is not going to kill her and she finally trusts him.  While their relationship evolves over the following episodes Dexter never fully confides in Lumen.  That situation changes this week as Lumen helps Dexter track down the latest serial killer and even saves Dexter after the serial killer unexpectedly subdues him.

Dexter has killed many serial killers during the series, which gave him more than enough reason to be concerned about what to do with Lumen.  After all, what if she later went to the police?  Dexter has been very careful in covering his tracks after every murder, which is why he has not yet been caught by the police.  Thus, the police would be very interested to hear what Lumen had to say after they investigated the scene of Boyd’s death and linked it with the previous murders.  If the police did not have enough evidence to arrest Dexter for the earlier murders, the information Dexter conveyed to Lumen after her escape would be invaluable.  What would be the legal ramifications for Dexter if the police apprehended Lumen for the later crimes and asked her to return to Dexter wearing a wire in order to gather more evidence against him?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring the issuance of a warrant by a detached magistrate unless certain exceptions apply.  Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Katz v. United States and Berger v. New York that electronic surveillance constitutes a Fourth Amendment search.  Thus Lumen’s use of a wire would have to be held reasonable under the Fourth Amendment in order to be permissible.  Whether the Lumen’s electronic surveillance would be deemed unreasonable, thus unconstitutional, is explained by the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Hoffa v. United States.

In Hoffa, a Louisiana Teamster official acting at the behest of federal law enforcement agents visited Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in order to obtain evidence against Hoffa of jury tampering.  While the government strongly denied dropping criminal charges against the Louisiana Teamster or issuing his wife any payments in exchange for his informant activity, the Hoffa court proceeded in its analysis assuming they did.  The Hoffa court reasoned that Hoffa was not relying on the security of the hotel room during his conversations with the Louisiana Teamster.  In fact, Hoffa invited the Louisiana Teamster into his hotel room.  Thus by permitting the Louisiana Teamster into his hotel room, Hoffa had consented to the intrusion into his private space.  Instead, it determined that Hoffa was relying on a misplaced confidence the Louisiana Teamster would not reveal the contents of their conversation to law enforcement.  For its holding the Hoffa court quoted the dissenting opinion in Lewis v. United States:

The risk of being overheard by an eavesdropper or betrayed by an informer or deceived as to the identity of one with whom one deals is probably inherent in the conditions of human society. It is the kind of risk we necessarily assume whenever we speak.

Therefore, by allowing Lumen into his home, Dexter would be taking the risk that anything he divulges to Lumen would be relayed to law enforcement officials.  In essence, the only way that Dexter or anyone else for that matter can fully ensure that his secrets remain secret is to just keep them to himself.

Crime Scene Investigation: What Constitutes Exigent Circumstances in Nevada?

In the October 14, 2010 CSI episode, “Sqweegel”, which aired on CBS, the Las Vegas based crime scene investigation team faces a serial killer who targets local Las Vegas celebrities who have secrets that would tarnish their philanthropic public images. The first victim, Margot Wilton (Ann-Margret Olsson) survives her attack, but the other two victims are not so lucky. The team learns that the killer whispers, “I know your secret, confess!” before he kills them. This leads the CSI investigators to believe that he will return to kill Wilton unless she confesses her secret.

Despite their offers to take her elsewhere, Wilton decides to return home. Against her wishes, the investigators patrol outside her home to make sure she is ok. While outside, they discover a car, which belongs to another Las Vegas celebrity with blood stains on the driver’s seat. The head investigator, Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne), peers in, mutters “exigent circumstances” and breaks the window of the car to investigate the origins of the blood stains.  Exigent circumstances is a term used in criminal procedure to describe occasions when police officers can conduct searches without warrants or enter a suspect’s home without a search warrant. As its name suggests, however, this is only allowed under exigent circumstances. Was Langston’s car search lawful under Nevada law?

The 2000 Nevada case of Hughes v. State held that a warrantless search of a car was legal because (1) there was probable cause to believe that weapons were inside the car and (2) there were exigent circumstances since suspects had just fled the scene of the crime. Another case, Camacho v. State, reached a similar holding. When applied to the instant case, it is a little more difficult to decipher whether the warrantless search of the parked car was lawful. Firstly, the aforementioned cases deal with drug or weapon possession, whereas the present case pertains to an ongoing murder investigation. It is unclear whether Langston broke into the car looking for a weapon or looking for information on a murder suspect. In court, he would likely argue that the blood stains were enough probable cause for him to break the car window. The blood stains combined with the car’s presence on the premises could satisfy the probable cause standard.

But, the exigent circumstances would be harder to prove. The car is parked off to the side, with no apparent suspicious activity going on around it. Although the detectives are aware that the killer could return, they do not have any leads on the kind of car he drove. Additionally, it was obvious that there was no one inside the car.

Detectives later enter Wilton’s home after they hear gunshots from inside . This scenario easily satisfies the two-prong exigent circumstances test because (1) there is probable cause to believe that the suspect would return or could be inside Wilton’s home and (2) the gunshots call for immediate action. Wilton is found alive (she shot the killer, who fled) and detectives find out that the abandoned car belongs to another victim (found dead inside Wilton’s home). Under Nevada law, because the car would have eventually ended up in an impound lot since its owner is dead, a warrantless search would be held legal. Furthermore, because the victim is dead, he is obviously unable to press charges for the search. Had the victim survived the attack, however, he could potentially press charges against the police because it is unclear whether there were exigent circumstances surrounding the car break-in.  

Regardless of the warrantless search of the deceased’s car, the killer escapes the Wilton residence, leaving the case unresolved.

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