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melindamusil
02-18-2014, 06:37 AM
Does a missing person affect the legality of warrantless searches?
More specifically: I know warrantless searches are only allowed under a very narrow set of circumstances in the US, namely, the plain view doctrine.

So, say there's a missing person. A police officer can see through a window an item that was known to be with the missing person at the time of his disappearance.

1. Does this give them the right to search the building for additional evidence related to the missing person?
2. Does it matter if it's the window of a house vs. a privately owned business?
3. Does it matter if the missing person is a child (vs. an adult)?

ETA:
4. Does it matter if the door is unlocked and/or standing open?

King Neptune
02-18-2014, 04:42 PM
Does a missing person affect the legality of warrantless searches?
More specifically: I know warrantless searches are only allowed under a very narrow set of circumstances in the US, namely, the plain view doctrine.

So, say there's a missing person. A police officer can see through a window an item that was known to be with the missing person at the time of his disappearance.

1. Does this give them the right to search the building for additional evidence related to the missing person?
2. Does it matter if it's the window of a house vs. a privately owned business?
3. Does it matter if the missing person is a child (vs. an adult)?

ETA:
4. Does it matter if the door is unlocked and/or standing open?

Don't let legalisms get in the way of a good story. Police frequently make illegal searches, thinking that they are doing good by breaking the law.

If a door were open, and there was some reason to suspect criminal activity, then someone might justify an illegal search by saying that there might have been a crimne in progress.

robjvargas
02-18-2014, 05:23 PM
The usual caveats. I'm not a lawyer.


Does a missing person affect the legality of warrantless searches?
More specifically: I know warrantless searches are only allowed under a very narrow set of circumstances in the US, namely, the plain view doctrine.

That's a big one, but there are emergency circumstances where it's allowed as well.


So, say there's a missing person. A police officer can see through a window an item that was known to be with the missing person at the time of his disappearance.

1. Does this give them the right to search the building for additional evidence related to the missing person?
Sure. Once a warrant is obtained. Unless there is an imminent danger of some sort. Say the item was bloody, indicating violence, or the officer heard a scream (or "heard" a scream, if you know what I'm getting at). I believe it's called "exigent circumstances."

I think exigence even applies if the officer sees the evidence about to be destroyed (i.e. shredding paper).


2. Does it matter if it's the window of a house vs. a privately owned business?
Both are private under the law. So no.

3. Does it matter if the missing person is a child (vs. an adult)?
Not that I'm aware of. There's certainly nothing in The Constitution that is written different depending on the nature of the (alleged) victim. Someone else can speak to precedent in case law, but I'm not aware of anything there, either.



ETA:
4. Does it matter if the door is unlocked and/or standing open?

If the door is open, I think, that's an indicator of exigent circumstances. The officer would have to announce him or her self, unless there's evidence of imminent danger. But if the door is hanging open, I believe that's sufficient cause to let the officer go in.

jclarkdawe
02-18-2014, 06:55 PM
Starting point is whether the person is a voluntary missing person, an abduction, or lost. Each situation has different criteria. Juveniles cannot go missing of their own choice and are always presumed to have runaway, which is prohibited behavior.

Second is the penalty for an illegal search is that the evidence discovered in the illegal search, and any evidence developed from the search, may be ruled inadmissible. That's it. That's the consequence.

Third is that there are a variety of exceptions where a warrant is not needed. For instance, if the person missing is possibly an abduction, an item seen through the window may be indicate that the abducted person is there, and is more then sufficient to survive a warrantless search.

A person who has been abducted is presumed to consent to any searches needed to find them. A person who has decided to disappear who is an adult provides the police with no reason to violate their privacy, and the police might not even be able to gain search warrants.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

WeaselFire
02-23-2014, 08:12 AM
You have a lot of variables, how about giving us better specifics. As described, all your questions have multiple answers. Lawyers, as well as police officers, have whole classes covering the materials of warrantless search.

Jeff