I’m going completely on readers here, but I’m told some version of this by a few readers:
Re the search case, although I haven’t read this or the 1994 opinion and
I don’t handle criminal matters, based on the facts in the article, it
doesn’t sound like a huge expansion. There has always been a “plain
view” exception to the need for a warrant. Basically, if police are
there for a lawful purpose, any contraband that is in plain view can be
used against the defendant.
This opinion simply allows use of contraband found while the police are
checking areas a potentially dangerous subject may be hiding. The
police still have to be there lawfully and their actions have to be for
a valid, articulable reason, that is unrelated to searching for illicit
material. I’m sure that if the police weren’t given permission to enter
the room or they checked the defendants sock drawer and found a gun,
that evidence would be tossed, because they weren’t there lawfully and
checking a sock drawer in no way adds to law enforcement safety.
In short, the court recognized that conduct such as looking in a closet
or under a bed, is motivated solely by genuine concerns for the safety
of law enforcement and innocent civilians. Finding contraband while
looking in a closet for this valid reason, (which, remember, is
completely unrelated to a search aimed at finding contraband), is, in
essence, the same as seeing contraband upon entering the room.
These requirements and limitations amount to a probable cause or
reasonable belief standard. For this exception to apply, the subject
has to be potentially dangerous and the contraband is found while law
enforcement is looking in the limited places where the subject could be
hiding. There would be no argument if they looked in the closet because
of a noise or if they heard cries for help. So, why should there be any
less of a reasonable belief the subject is in the closet simply because
he is quiet?
The reason we have the Exclusionary Rule is to deter unconstitutional
conduct by law enforcement. If a police officer’s conduct is solely
motivated by an immediate and present concern for safety, then it cannot
be said their actions are unconstitutional.