Searches in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense

After the incorporation of the Fourth Amendment to the states through the Due Process Clause, the Fourth Amendment has probably been the most fertile source of constitutional litigation in America. The Fourth Amendment is triggered during every one of the millions of arrests made annually, as well as every search of every person or private area by a public official. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that whenever someone’s privacy is diminished by a governmental search or seizure that it was proper and that the government doesn’t intrude without proper cause into an area where someone may have a legitimate expectation of privacy. Legitimate was defined by the Supreme Court in Katz v. United State as meaning an actual expectation of privacy that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. The Katz court did not define what reasonable meant which has produced even more litigation to try and define what reasonable means.

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The protection against unreasonable searches and seizures began with three eighteenth-century cases. One from the colonies and the other two from England. The colonial case involved colonial smugglers having their property seized through writs of assistance which permitted the customs agents to search any place in which smuggled goods might be concealed. The searches could take place even if there was no particular suspicion the goods were there. Entick v. Carrington and Wilkes v. Wood were the English cases, and they involved critics of the government. The critics as we’ll call them were both arrested and all their books and papers seized by using warrants that named neither the suspects nor the places to be searched. The critics sued the seizing agents for trespass and won judgments in their favor.

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Because of the framer’s experiences with British general warrants the framers outlawed warrants that lacked specificity in the Warrant Clause section in the Fourth Amendment. By requiring a specific description of the place to be searched and the things to be seized, random intrusions into people’s lives were prohibited. The Fourth Amendment is governed by the reasonableness rule and is subject to a body of law fashioned by our nation’s courts. The court’s Fourth Amendment rulings can be divided into four categories:

  1. Before the police may search a place or arrest an individual an individualized probable cause must be shown. The state must demonstrate to a neutral magistrate that there is probable cause that a crime has occurred or that evidence of a crime may be found in the particular location described.
  2. In an ideal world the state would have time to petition a magistrate for a warrant in every case, but there are many circumstances where the state is not required to secure a warrant. The necessity for a magistrate is waived as long as the state’s conduct is otherwise objectively reasonable. For example, the state may conduct a search when exigent circumstances demand it, and they may seize an illegal object if it is in plain view.
  1. Brief investigative stops for questioning that fall short of an actual arrest are another example that is permitted if the police officer has some reasonable suspicion of criminality.
  1. Probably the most infamous and the one most people are familiar with is the government’s need to deal with potentially dangerous or disruptive hidden conditions. Categories such as airports and certain public school settings such as athlete drug testing are usually justified suspicion less intrusions.

The exclusionary rule is what gives the Searches and Seizures Clause teeth. The exclusionary rule states that evidence seized illegally may not be used against the one whose privacy was invaded.  Second to only the required Miranda warning the exclusionary rule is probably the most criticized ruling in criminal justice history. Before the exclusionary rule was implemented the states were free to enforce the Fourth Amendment by means other than exclusion but since the implementation of the exclusionary rule exclusion has been constitutionally required in all state and federal courts.

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The strongest argument in favor of exclusion is that it is necessary to give the Fourth Amendment significance and that illegal searches and seizures are deterred by the prospect of exclusion. If the state was allowed to breach the Constitution with impunity the Fourth Amendment would be a “mere form of words.” If the evidence cannot be used at trial, what is the point of seizing it?

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