Thursday, June 19, 1997

US Supreme Court US v. Santana 75-19

Decided  June 24, 1976

   THE hot pursuit case.  In this case, an undercover officer arranged to buy drugs from a suspect.  The suspect had him drive her to Santana's house, where she went inside and bought drugs with bills that the undercover officer had marked.  She came back outside with the heroin, and the undercover officer drove a couple blocks away and arrested her.  She told the officer that Santana had the money.

   Other officers went back to Santana's house to arrest her.  She was standing on the threshold of her house (which the court deemed to be a public place, allowing her to be arrested without a warrant).  The police attempted to apprehend her, and she retreaded into her home.  They chased her inside and completed the arrest.  She was found to be in possession of more heroin and of most of the aforementioned marked bills.  At her trial, she sought to exclude that evidence as the fruit of an unlawful entry into her home.

   The Supreme Court found the warrantless entry to be reasonable, saying that "a suspect may not defeat an arrest which has been set in motion in a public the expedient of escaping to a private place."

Wednesday, June 4, 1997

US Supreme Court South Dakota v. Opperman 75-76

Decided 7-6-76.

   This is the decision that gave us vehicle inventory searches (most lower courts had already upheld the validity of such searches, but this is when SCOTUS weighed in).

   Opperman's car was impounded for a parking violation, and at the impound yard an officer conducted an inventory of the valuables in the car (which were later taken to the police department for safekeeping).  During the search, the officer found weed in the glove compartment.  The owner of the car later collected his valuables from the police department, and was arrested for possession of marijuana.  He was convicted, and appealed.  The South Dakota Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that the inventory violated the federal fourth amendment.  The Supreme Court reversed the South Dakota Supreme Court, holding that inventories of impounded vehicles pursuant to standard police procedure are reasonable.  The court reasoned that inventory searches are conducted as more of a community caretaker function of the police than an enforcement function, and are necessary to ensure the protection of the owner's property while it remains in police custody, the protection of the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property, the protection of the police from potential danger, and to aid in response to incidents of theft or vandalism or attempts to determine whether a vehicle has been stolen.

   The court discussed some general search & seizure stuff in this decision, stating that although vehicles are effects (and therefore protected by the fourth amendment), they are not afforded the same level of protection as houses because of their inherent mobility and because of the lesser expectation of privacy that people have in their vehicles compared to their houses.  The court also held that it had never subscribed to the notion that the fourth amendment prohibits all searches, or even all warrantless searches, but only unreasonable searches.

Sunday, June 1, 1997

US Supreme Court US v. Watson 74-538

Decided January 26, 1976.

   Watson was being investigated by a postal inspector for illegal use of credit cards, based on a reliable informant's tip.  The informant arranged a meeting with Watson, during which the informant was to give a signal if Watson had stolen credit cards.  The informant gave the signal, and Watson was arrested and taken outside of the restaurant.  The inspector found no credit cards on Watson's person, and asked him for consent to search his car (after obtaining a Miranda waiver).  Watson agreed, and the inspector warned him that anything found would "go against him," and asked again for consent.  Watson agreed, the inspector found stolen credit cards, and Watson was later convicted of possessing them.

   Watson appealed, arguing that his arrest violated the 4th Amendment because it was made without a warrant, and that his consent was involuntary because he had not been told he could refuse.  The 9th circuit agreed with him and reversed his conviction, and the prosecution appealed.

   The US Supreme Court reversed the 9th's ruling.  The court observed that there was no precedent for requiring a warrant for warrants made in a public place.  Obtaining a warrant for cases like these is certainly encouraged by the courts, but they do not require it.  Further, the court held that there was no illegal coercion and that although the court may consider whether as suspect was informed of his right to refuse consent as a factor, it's not a conclusive test of voluntariness.  Accordingly, Watson's conviction was reinstated.