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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Essay on Crime Scene Exception to the Fourth Amendment

Law enforcement officers are required to first secure an arrest warrant or search warrant from the court before an arrest or search is made.  This is embodied under the Fourth Amendment which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This is the rule.  However, there are certain well-recognized exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.  Among these exceptions are search of a moving vehicle, stop and frisk searches, and plain view searches. 

By virtue of several United States Supreme Court decisions, a crime scene investigation is not an exception to the Fourth Amendment.  This is the declaration of the Supreme Court in the case of Flippo v. West Virginia, 522 US 11 (1999) where the court said that there is no ‘crime scene exception’ to the Fourth Amendment.  Because of the importance of the crime scene in the investigation law enforcement offices should be reminded that in the investigation of the crime scene the rule applies. 

Crime scene searches and investigation are perhaps the most important components of any criminal investigation.  Because of the recent development in technology and forensics analysis, law enforcement officers can virtually reconstruct the whole event and link the suspects to the crime scene.  When it is properly conducted an efficient search of the crime scene can help in the successful arrest, prosecution and conviction of the persons responsible.  It is because of the importance of the crime scene that the law enforcement officers should comply with the requirements of the law before they conduct the search. 

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In the case of Mincey v. Arizona, 437 US 385 (1978), the Supreme Court has expressly stated that a crime scene search cannot be recognized as one of the well delineated exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.  Crime scenes therefore cannot be given special consideration.  If a crime occurs in an area such as inside a house or a building, the law enforcement officers are compelled to comply with the requirement of the Fourth Amendment before they conduct the search.

There are several reasons why crime scene investigations are not excluded from the requirement of search warrant.  First is the presumption established in the case of Katz v. United States that all searches conducted without warrants are unreasonable.  In this case, the Supreme Court made the emphatic statement that the Fourth Amendment establishes the rule that the search warrant is required before any search is made.  If the law enforcement officers conduct a search on any area without a warrant it befalls upon them to prove that the search falls under the exception.  For this reason, all searches without warrant are unreasonable unless the search is an exception to the Fourth Amendment.  The crime scene investigation however is not an exception to the Fourth Amendment.

Second, when a search is made in a private area which happens to be a crime scene, for instance a house or any private area, the owner of premise has a reasonable expectation of privacy therein.  This right to privacy over the private area must be respected by the law enforcement officers.  One of the hallmarks of every free and democratic society is the enjoyment by the people of their right to privacy.  It reiterates the time-honored rule that a person’s house is sacred that not even the highest and mightiest monarch could enter it against the owner’s will.  Thus, law enforcement officers cannot make the search in this area without first securing consent from the owner of the private area or from any person who has the right to make the consent over the private area. 

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