What warrants, if any, does the officer need to enter the garage to arrest the defendant? What if the officer is in hot pursuit of the defendant? What if the defendant is known to be injured and unarmed?
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The use of a warrant to search the premises of a homeowner is applicable in cases where a person is suspected of committing a crime but there is an insufficient level of on-hand evidence at the time and, as such, a search warrant is needed (Lerner, 2003). However, during instances where an active pursuit is in place, an officer has witnessed the crime occurring or an APB has been put on the individual in question and the officer suspects that they are hiding in a particular house, garage or apartment, there is sufficient probable cause in place for a search to be conducted without a warrant (Ortman, 2016). The use of probable cause as a justified means of searching the premises is necessary for law enforcement personnel. Otherwise, this curtails their capacity to pursue criminal activity onto private property.
For example, if a police officer was in pursuit of a criminal that had recently been involved in a hit and run incident, yet this individual escaped into a residential neighborhood, should the officer wait for a warrant to search the homes, a process that can take several hours, or should they conduct the search immediately? The obvious answer is to quickly perform a search for the criminal since they could escape while the warrant is being issued. The same circumstances apply if the defendant is injured and unarmed, since they would require immediate medical attention, which they would not be able to get, if they were being pursued by the police.
A set of circumstances in which there is probable cause to search but not probable cause to arrest or in which there is probable cause to both arrest and to search.
One circumstance where there is probable cause to explore but not probable cause to arrest is in cases where a bomb threat has been called in, and the police need to search the local neighborhood. In this case, there is probable cause to search, since the officers need to take the threat seriously and attempt to find the bomb, however there is no reason to arrest an individual. If a bomb is found in a private property, the owner is not necessarily the person who placed it there and, as such, they should not be arrested. Another example is when there is suspicion of an ongoing crime but no actual need to arrest someone.
This can be seen in cases which involve abandoned houses that have become areas where “junkies” (i.e. drug addicts) congregate to take illegal drugs. In some cases, a police officer is required to investigate whether a home has been used or is currently being used as a place where people take drugs (Smith, 2015). This particular circumstance is seen numerous times in Detroit, wherein the numerous abandoned houses in the suburbs are regularly used as locations to take drugs. As such, it is the mandate of the local police force to investigate the validity of such claims and potentially put a stop to such actions.
One circumstance where there are probable causes for search and arrest is when a murder has occurred in a home, and the likely suspect is the surviving spouse. For example, if a person called 911 stating that their life is in danger and that they need immediate assistance and when the police get there they find a dead body, then it is likely that the murder weapon and suspect for the crime is in the immediate vicinity. In cases like this, there is probable cause to arrest other residents within the premises and conduct a search for the murder weapon. This is done to prevent a potential suspect from escaping or disposing of evidence of the crime.
Mr. A walks into a police station, drops three wristwatches on a table, and tells an officer that Mr. B robbed a local jewelry store 2 weeks ago. Mr. A will not say
anything else in response to police questioning. A quick investigation reveals that the three watches were among a number of items stolen in the jewelry store robbery.
In this case, the police do not have sufficient probable cause to do any of the acts mentioned in this list. The problem with establishing probable cause, in this case, is that the police cannot commit to an action only because someone told them that a person is guilty of a crime. As stated in the Fourth Amendment, police officers can engage in reasonable acts of search and seizure as long as there is a justifiable and defendable reason behind such actions (Corn, 2012). However, these are limited by aspects related to an individual’s right to reasonable privacy and property ownership. Simply put, without sufficient extenuating circumstances (i.e. a police officer chasing Mr. B directly into this house after the robbery) or direct evidence clearly proving the truth behind particular Mr. B’s involvement in the robbery, then the police cannot search the property (McGahn, 2015). While it can be stated that the watches could be used as sufficient justification for a search, the particulars of the case presented show that this is not possible.
First, there is no clear connection between Mr. B and the watches aside from the word of Mr. A. There is the potential that Mr. A could be mistaken that Mr. B is the culprit or that Mr. A is intentionally setting up Mr. B. Secondly, aside from giving the watches to the police, Mr. A has proven to be uncooperative in the investigation. When obtaining a warrant based on the testimony of a witness, it is crucial that the said witness actually cooperates with the authorities. If there is no cooperation in place, as seen in this case, then it is unlikely that a warrant will be issued, let alone the police unilaterally going to the house of Mr. B to conduct the search (Cavanagh, 2006). The same can be said about carrying out the search of the premises of Mr. A; while Mr. A was in possession of the stolen property, he did turn it over to the police and gave a testimony regarding its possible origins. While the police can be suspicious of Mr. A, this is not a sufficient reason as to establish probable cause behind searching the home of Mr. A. Lastly, arresting either Mr. A or Mr. B is not plausible at this point since there is no direct evidence to prove that either man is responsible for the robbery. Mr. B is being accused by Mr. A, but an accusation is not enough without sufficient direct evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, Mr. A is not saying anything else regarding the crime and, as such, there is an insufficient level of probable cause.
What should have occurred is Mr. A fully cooperating with the police and explaining the origin of the watches, how Mr. B was directly involved and other aspects of the crime that the police would need to know. However, this still would not have resulted in the search based on probable cause alone; since the testimony of a single witness is not enough (Minzer, 2009). Police investigations, seizures, and arrests are based on adhering to proper due process. As such, Mr. A giving a statement about the probable guilt of an individual is not enough. What is necessary is to investigate the background of Mr. B, determine where he was at the time of the robbery, and get more eyewitness accounts to potentially corroborate what Mr. A told the police. This is due to the necessity of establishing sufficient fundamental fairness when conducting the investigation. If the police force were to arrest Mr. B and conduct the search of his home on mere hearsay, then it cannot be stated that they are following through in establishing fundamental fairness in their activities.
The police need to treat Mr. B as if he was not guilty and establish sufficient probable cause to prove his guilt. If no corroborating evidence can be produced that proves Mr. B was involved in the robbery, then, in the eyes of the law, he is innocent. This is based on the rights of American citizens of equal protection under the law which upholds the concept that a person is considered innocent until evidence proves them to be guilty. Without such a system in place, it is likely that people could be arrested due to hearsay and suspicion which is against the fundamental aspects of a democratic society that the police force is meant to protect and uphold (Epstein, 2015). The same principles also apply to Mr. A since there is also no evidence to prove that he was involved in the crime where the watches were stolen. Even his lack of sufficient cooperation is based on his right against self-incrimination. If the police want to arrest or search the premises of Mr. A, they would need to apply the same strict standards that they would have done on Mr. B as well due to the need to treat everyone equally and justly under the law.
Cavanagh, F. A. (2006). Probable Cause in a World of Pure Imagination: Why the Candyman Warrants Should Not Have Been Golden Tickets to Search. St. John’s Law Review, 80(3), 1091-1121.
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Ortman, W. (2016). Probable Cause Revisited. Stanford Law Review, 68(3), 511.
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