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Illegally Seized Evidence

Posted by John Rutkowski | Jun 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

Criminal law -- Search and seizure -- Trial court erred by denying dispositive motion to suppress cocaine in pill bottle stashed in concrete latticework attached to foundation of rooming house where defendant was staying.

A dispositive motion is one in which the decision by the trial court will determine if the case goes forward to trial or not. By denying the defendant's motion the case goes forward to trial and it gives the defendant the right to appeal the denial. If the judge had granted the motion the case would have been dismissed because, by the vile being suppressed or disallowed at trial the State would have no evidence.

Residents of rooming houses are entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections as residents of single-family houses, so long as rooming house itself is not open to public.

The fourth Amendment protects us from illegal searches, however, for the Fourth Amendment to apply the one must have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area that was searched.

In absence of evidence that rooming house was open to public, trial court's conclusion that pill bottle was not in constitutionally protected area was erroneous.

The court of appeals found because the rooming house is not open to the public the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched. Had the rooming house been open to the public the outcome most likely been different.

Any argument that pill bottle was not in constitutionally protected area because it was outside house was not supported by facts, which showed that latticework and crawlspace behind it were part of structure.

Open view doctrine did not apply where, although officer observed defendant place pill bottle in latticework, he had only a hunch that the pill bottle might contain contraband -- Further, officer had neither a warrant nor facts to support an exception to the warrant requirement when he entered property, without which state could not show that officer's seizure of pill bottle was legal under open view doctrine.

The open view or plain view doctrine means just that. If law-enforcement sees contraband in plain view, like through a car window on a seat, the office has a legal right to seize it. If the officer in this case had testified he could see contraband in the container the evidence would not have been thrown out.

About the Author

John Rutkowski

Mr. Rutkowski has been practicing law for the past twenty-three years. Prior to practicing law Mr. Rutkowski served twelve years as a deputy sheriff, retiring to attend law school. Starting his law-enforcement career as a patrol deputy which included two years on the DUI squad; Mr. Rutkowski moved up the ranks becoming a corporal in the field training program which give him the responsibility for training new recruits.


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