Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, we are all to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.
This means that generally speaking unless the police have a search warrant, whatever has been seized is inadmissible in court against a defendant under what is called the “Exclusionary Rule.” This is meant to deter governmental authorities from such practices.
Over the years, the courts have established exceptions to the rule when the costs of exclusion outweigh the deterrent effect.
The following are the primary exceptions:
• The Good Faith Exception
This is when searches and seizures are conducted pursuant to a warrant, which is later determined to be invalid through no fault of the police.
If there is an illegal search or seizure and a sufficient period of time has elapsed between the activity and the discovery of other evidence (even if connected to the initial illegality) the other evidence may still be allowed in court.
• Inevitable Discovery
Evidence seized improperly can still be admitted if it is shown that it would have been eventually discovered by authorities.
• Independent Source
This exception applies when the police initially illegally seize property but subsequently obtain information from an unrelated source sufficient to authorize the issuance of a search warrant, which is then executed as to the same property.
• Community Caretaker and Emergency Aid
When the police enter property to check on the well-being of a person or in an emergency, probable cause is not required and if there is crime evidence inside, it may be seized.
• Plain View
If the police are legitimately present at a location they may legally seize crime evidence, which is in plain view.
• Exigent Circumstances
Warrantless searches and seizures are allowed in an emergency to (1) prevent the imminent destruction of evidence; (2) protect police officers or others; (3) prevent the escape of a subject.
A warrantless search of a car is allowed if there is probable cause that it contains crime evidence.
Normally a hearing is held and the judge makes a decision as to whether an exception applies.
Hopefully, no readers will ever have to deal with such situations, but if you do and as they say, now you know.