Constitutional Law

Donald “Duck” Downs should win his appeal on the ground that the discs which were presented as evidence were obtained illegally and should therefore be excluded. Officer Park entered the premises owned by Downs after he observed the suspicious exchange that took place between Downs and Mayer. In his trained eye, he believed that there was reasonable ground to suspect that what Downs handed to Mayer could have been contraband which Mayer paid for in cash.

Believing that he did not have enough time to leave the area and obtain a warrant, Officer Park decided to apply the rule of “exigent circumstances” to justify his intrusion into Downs’ residence. According to the letters of the law, police officers are allowed to conduct arrest and seizures without a warrant if they believe that the evidence might be destroyed or hidden before they are able to obtain a warrant.

Moreover, Downs could not seek the privacy protection afforded by the constitution since he could not cite a legitimate expectation of privacy because his door, which was attached to a deck, was wide open, leaving their activities in full view of Officer Park who was in the sidewalk at the time. The circumstances therefore made the doctrine of open fields also applicable to the case (Calsyn, Hale, Kranz, Grossman, and Kim, 1998).

After entering the residence of Downs, Officer Park conducted a search incident to arrest which yielded a .32 caliber pistol and $800 in cash from Downs and a baggie of white powder which looked like contraband from Mayer. He then placed the two under arrest and after reinforcements arrived, searched the house. He found three computer discs inside a closed cabinet located in the second floor of the house. Those discs, which were later opened after a warrant was obtained, were used as evidence against Downs and Mayer.

The action of Officer Park in connection with the three computer discs was unconstitutional. According to the law, a search incident to arrest, which could be conducted without a warrant, could be done in the person of the arrestee and could include closed spaces or containers within the reach of the arrestee. Since the discs were found inside a closed cabinet located on the second floor, the search could not be classified under a search incident to arrest. The seizure which was made without a warrant was therefore illegal and unconstitutional (Calsyn et al, 1998).

The warrant itself, which was later obtained and used to search the residence of Downs and verify the contents of the discs, could be considered invalid. It was a defective warrant because the police officers who requested it could not have possibly established probable cause. In the first place, their presence there was prompted by Park’s call for reinforcement after he suspected that a narcotics deal was in progress.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the white substance was not contraband but was, in fact, a legal substance made up of a laxative, vitamin B12, and soap powder. Their only reason for applying for a search warrant was the illegal discovery of three discs with dubious titles like “Tramps Like Us” and “The Wild, the Innocent, and the F Street Shuffle.” Since it was evident from the entire incident that the police officers did not even know what to look for, probable cause could not have been established, making the search warrant a defective one (United States v. Leon – Further Readings, n.d.).

 In United States v. Leon, the Supreme Court ruled that “Evidence obtained through use of a search warrant subsequently judged to be defective should be admissible in court.” That decision, if read alone, worked against Downs. However, the Supreme Court, in handing down that ruling, also came out with an exception by saying that

In the absence of an allegation that the magistrate abandoned his detached and neutral role, suppression is appropriate only if the officers were dishonest or reckless in preparing their affidavit or could not have harbored an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause (United States v. Leon – Further Readings, n.d.).

Evidence suggests that the police officers did not harbor “an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause” because, as explained earlier, they did not know what to look for. What actually happened was they became frustrated after discovering that the seized white substance was not actually contraband and they did not have a valid case against Downs and Mayer.

Another reason for the absence of probable cause was the fact that Park suspected that the discs contained illicit material because of their titles, but could not be certain. So what he did was to ask Downs about them. However, when Downs immediately answered “porn!” he doubted if he was telling the truth. So what he did was show the discs to Mayer (who was already agitated upon learning that the white powder which he received from

Downs was merely soap powder and laxative), who blurted out “you check out what’s on those disks, you’ll see what that [EXPLETIVE DELETED] has been up to!” Based on Mayer’s statement alone, Park applied for a warrant. He was torn between his suspicion that the discs contained illicit material and something else which was prompted by Mayer’s words which were uttered in anger. In other words, Park was merely on a fishing expedition, not knowing what kind of fish he would be catching.

Even if Park really believed that the discs contained pornographic material, that would not have been enough to establish probable cause. The United States Supreme Court in Stanley v. Georgia reversed a ruling made by the Georgia Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a statute passed by the Georgia legislature criminalizing the possession of obscene materials by private persons. In other words, suspicion of possession of pornographic materials could no longer constitute probable cause for the purpose of applying for a search warrant. According to the United States Supreme Court,

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds (Stanley v. Georgia, 2008).

References

Calsyn, J.D., Hale, B.C., Kranz, H., Grossman, M.R., and Kim, N.E. (1998). Warrantless

            Searches and seizures. Georgetown Law Journal. Retrieved April 10, 2008 from

            http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3805/is_199806/ai_n8796028/pg_1

Stanley v. Georgia. (2008). Retrieved April 10, 2008 from

            http://law.jrank.org/pages/12765/Stanley-v-Georgia.html

United States v. Leon – Further Readings. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2008 from

            http://law.jrank.org/pages/13049/United-States-v-Leon.html