As a police officer, you'll quickly learn that nobody
agrees on anything. With all the disagreement
around you on a constant basis, you have to be
careful not to throw up your hands and go with the
flow.  More often than not, the flow has it wrong.  
When it comes to search and seizure, police officers
can get pretty creative.  When you watch the real
cops' shows on television, view them strictly as
entertainment, for  entertainment value is the
measure by which the shows' producers air
segments of real police action.  As long as it's
entertaining, they couldn't care less about the rules
of any constitutional amendments.
The rules regarding searches and seizures really
aren't that complicated.  Your most frequent
searches and seizures will be done without a
warrant.  The most frequent, and undisputed, valid
search you'll conduct is one incident to arrest That
simply means you've lawfully arrested a person for a
particular crime or violation.  Your search of the
individual can be relatively intrusive.  By intrusive, I
mean you can throughly search the person's
clothing and personal effects.  When you find, let's
say, a thumbnail sized baggy of suspected heroin,
you can lawfully charge the person with that crime
in addition to the crime for which you originally
arrested him.  In some cases, especially where
drugs are involved, the search can become even
more intrusive to include body cavities.  With the
exception of shining your flashlight into your
suspect's mouth to check for contraband, don't get
carried away on body searches.  Your department
will have rules regarding intrusive body searches.  If
you know what's good for you, you'll follow those
rules without exception.
Search and seizure warrants are most often
obtained by police investigators in specialized units;
however, any police officer can apply for, and
obtain, a search and seizure warrant.  Educate
yourself on search and seizure, but don't be in a big
hurry to obtain and execute your first search and
seizure warrant.  I'm not telling to join the majority
of police officers who will never apply for a search
and seizure warrant.  I'm just telling you to gain
some experience, before you knock down
somebody's door.  Better yet, do your first warrant
on something simple.
Let's say you've established probable cause to
believe that Suspect Jones has a full size
refrigerator stored in his basement which was
stolen in a recent burglary.  You'll execute this
warrant with the appropriate level of safety;
however, it's low risk since how quickly you enter
Suspect Jones' dwelling is not critical.  You can
knock on his door and wait as long as you like for
Jones to answer the door.  Unless Jones has a sink
hole in his basement, he's not going to be able to
get rid of that refrigerator.  Let's say Jones does
the next best thing, and he doesn't answer the
door.  You've got a search and seizure warrant.  
You've waited a reasonable amount of time [there's
that word reasonable again] , so you force the door
to gain entry.  As you secure the dwelling to
establish it is unoccupied, you find a refrigerator in
the basement.  It's the same brand and color as the
refrigerator in your warrant, and the serial number
Can you continue to search?  The answer is no.  
You've located the contraband listed in your
warrant, and any further searching is not
authorized by your warrant.  However, as you were
entering the basement, another police officer opens
a closet door in an upstairs bedroom where he finds
Suspect Jones hiding.  Inside the closet, with Jones,
are a dozen brand new toaster ovens stacked from
floor to ceiling.  The ovens are in the original
packaging in plain view, and you subsequently
establish the ovens were taken in a separate
burglary.  Can you charge Suspect Jones with
charges relating to the second burglary and seize
the toaster ovens?  The answer is, yes.
Jones' lawyer will argue that the seizure of the
toaster ovens is inadmissable since they were not
listed in the warrant as items to be seized.  Since
charges relating to the second burglary were based
on that seizure, the attorney will argue that the
charges against Jones regarding the second
burglary should be dismissed.  Jones' attorney
might also argue that the closet, in which Jones and
the ovens were found, was obviously too small to
contain the full size refrigerator.  Therefore, the
closet should have never been opened in the first
place.  This argument has validity since no search
for the refrigerator could be made in areas, or
compartments, which were obviously to small to
contain the refrigerator.  On the other hand, the
State will argue that the police officer who opened
the closet door was not searching for the
refrigerator.  The State will argue that the only
reason the police officer opened the closet was a
reasonable effort to locate the suspect who the
police officers could reasonably believe was hiding
inside the dwelling.  The State would point out that
the reasonableness of the police officer's action is
supported by Jones' actual presence inside the
Will the Judge hold the seizure of the toaster ovens
as admissible evidence?  Who knows?  While one
judge would have no problem with the seizure,
another judge may side with the defense.  Had the
toaster ovens been stacked, in plain view, in the
basement beside the refrigerator, there probably
wouldn't even be any argument.  I say "probably,"
because remember, in your business, nobody
agrees on anything.
This is why some, or more than some, police
officers view the Fourth Amendment, and its
protections, as more of a nuisance rather than a
unique and important protector of individual rights.  
The truth is this.  If you are a reasonable person,
and you make an effort to study and understand
the Fourth Amendment, you will never have a
problem complying with rules of search and seizure.
You will rarely lose a case based on search and
seizure, and your knowledge will be evident to
judges; prosecutors, and defense attorneys.
"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."
It would be convenient if you could obtain search
and seizure warrants the same way TV cops get
them.  You know… "I'll call in the warrant," or, the
ADA tells the detective, "I'll get the warrant."  But,
that's TV.  The plot would get lost if they didn't
take shortcuts.
I've linked you directly to everything you need to
know about search and seizure.  You'd think that,
with such easy access to the Fourth Amendment
and its Annotations,  police officers would be well
versed in search and seizure.  You'll learn that's not
the case, but police officers are not alone.  As your
police career progresses, you'll hear some pretty
strange interpretations of the Fourth Amendment
from judges and lawyers.
Search and Seizure
"Search and seizure warrants are most often
obtained by police investigators in specialized
units; however, any police officer can apply
for, and obtain, a search and seizure warrant."
~ Barry M. Baker

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