Search Warrant Exceptions Go to the Movies

Search Warrant Exceptions Go to the MoviesThe Dirty Harry movie series was one of many vigilante crime fighter movie series in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Death Wish and Walking Tall. This clip from 1971’s Dirty Harry illustrates how much criminal law has changed over the past fifty years. The hunting rifle which was inadmissible in 1971 would almost certainly be admissible today.

Apropos of nothing, Scorpio, the fictional murderer in this movie, was based on the Zodiac killer. This real-life San Francisco serial killer was never caught.

Because of these changes, it is harder for Weatherford criminal defense attorneys to resolve cases which involve police-seized physical evidence. So, if you are charged with a drug crime or other offense which involves physical evidence, you need a very strong advocate.

Defendant’s Rights, Then and Now

Not all these legal changes have favored prosecutors. Did you notice that Harry looked at the prosecutor as if he was speaking Klingon when the lawyer mentioned Escobedo and Miranda? These two cases, along with a few others, are basically the cornerstone decisions regarding defendant rights in criminal court.

Escobedo v. Illinois guaranteed the right to counsel in all criminal cases. A lawyer is the best protection against police officer misconduct. Miranda v. Arizona required police officers to give defendants their rights, including their right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment. That’s one of the most important individual rights in the Constitution.

The Exigent Circumstances Exception

In the movie, Harry initially confronted Scorpio because Scorpio kidnapped a girl and held her hostage. In 1971, Harry could not use that emergency as an excuse to enter the dwelling. But beginning in the late 1970s, the exigent circumstances exception would apply.

Today, this exception comes up quite a bit in many cases. Assume a house party gets out of control, and officers responded to a disturbance call. They may have the right to enter the house without a warrant and ensure that everyone there is safe. While they are inside, officers may seize hunting rifles or any other evidence that is in plain view.

This exception is limited. First, the danger must be imminent. If the party had ended by the time officers arrived at the scene, they would probably need a warrant to enter the house. Second, the search must be narrow. Officers may sweep through the house, but they probably may not enter a detached garage or poke in closets.

Hot Pursuit

This exception does not come up quite as much. If officers chase a suspect, on foot or in vehicles, they may continue pursuit, even if the suspect enters private property.

This exception usually does not apply unless officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the suspect had committed a crime. Reasonable suspicion means specific, articulable facts which indicate criminal activity.

Generally, officers must have warrants to seize physical evidence, but there are exceptions. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Parker County and nearby jurisdictions.