It’s Probable Cause, NOT “Probably” Cause … and Search Warrants
We’ve discussed the issue of probable cause (PC) many times, and we all know it’s one of the very few things that remains consistent in law enforcement. PC is a “gotta have it” sort of thing when making certain arrests and obtaining search warrants.
One more time – Probable Cause is the existence of facts (not mere suspicion) that will satisfy an officer of ordinary caution that a crime has been, or is being committed … and the item to be searched for is reasonably connected to the crime in question. Oh, and that evidence of the crime can be found at/in a certain place (PC for a search warrant).
Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s take a look at a few more rules regarding search and seizure.
1) Information used to obtain a search warrant absolutely must be current information. “Stale” information is not a valid basis for a search—evidence could have been moved, suspects might have moved on, other people may now be inside the residence, etc.
2) An informant’s name need not be revealed in the body of the search warrant or affidavit. That’s sort of why they call them “confidential” informants.
3) Search warrants must be served (executed) promptly. Not a week or two after the judge signs it. Actually, delays of three or four days have rendered searches unreasonable in the eyes of the courts.
4) Police officers must knock and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. However, there’s no written rule/law that states a required amount of wait time before using a battering ram to gain entry. But, a good rule of thumb is to wait a few seconds, long enough for a reasonable person to open the door. Any longer allows the suspect enough time to destroy evidence.
5) Officers may obtain “no knock” warrants if there’s a threat of danger to officers should they knock and announce their presence. Also, warrants must be served during daytime hours unless otherwise specified on the warrant.
6) The law says that officers may damage private property while entering, as long as the damage was necessary under the circumstances (breaking doors and windows, etc.). And guess who’s stuck with the bill? Yep, the suspect. However, some jurisdictions have policies in place that require the municipality to cover the cost of repairs.
7) Members of the media should not be allowed to accompany officers into a private home during the execution of a search warrant.
8) Officers do not need a search warrant when conducting a search of a suspect’s personal property during the booking process at the jail. This includes any closed container found in the suspect’s pockets.
9) Officers must limit their searches of electronic devices to only the files named on the search warrant.
10) Evidence seized during an improper search may not be used during criminal proceedings. However, if the officer relies on a warrant issued by the court that was later found to be accidentally inaccurate (at no fault of the officer), it is possible that a court would allow the evidence to be introduced.
11) Evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment (protection against illegal search and seizure) may not be used in criminal trials. However, that very same evidence may be, and is, used in other court proceedings, such as parole violations/revocations.
12) It’s Probable Cause, NOT Probably Cause. Yes, I see and hear this (probably cause) quite often.