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
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
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 matches.
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 closet.
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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Copyright © 2021  Barry M. Baker  
Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide to a Career
in Law Enforcement
There are Five
Indispensable Truths
for a Successful Police
Today's police officers are
afforded the best ballistic
protection in history... and
it only gets better.
Recommended reading for
those of you thinking
about becoming a Police
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While television police
shows and movies are not
normally the best examples
for you to apply to your
police career, they do
sometimes offer some
valuable insights.
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