Criminal Investigation Scenario: Criminal Scene Investigators Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2010 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Criminal Investigation Scenario:

Criminal scene investigators are usually mandated with the task of actively processing a crime scene in order to collect evidence that would be used in arresting and prosecuting suspects. In this scenario, these investigators were involved in active processing of a crime scene where Clyde Stevens was found lying on the floor unresponsive and pronounced dead from an apparent stabbing. Steven's body was found with a large butcher knife protruding from his back by his neighbor, Mary Ellis. In order to collect enough evidence for the crime, the investigators carried out a search in Ellis' walk-in-closet and the bedroom of her adult son. These efforts resulted in the identification of a blood fingerprint adjacent to a light switch in William's bedroom. Through the use of an amino acid stain and photograph of the print, the blood fingerprint is from the right index finger of William Ellis while DNA analysis matches the blood to Clyde Stevens. Notably, there are several regulations and procedures that govern crime scene investigations, especially in relation to entry into a person's home.

The Fourth Amendment:

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One of the major regulations that govern crime scene investigations is the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The legislation is geared towards protecting the right of individuals to be secure in their households, persons, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.). According to the legislation, this right shall not be violated and no warrants shall be issued except in cases supported by probable cause. The warrant shall describe the place to be searched and the individuals or properties to be seized. Therefore, the main objective of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is to safeguard two basic civil liberty concerns or interests i.e. The right to privacy and the liberty from any arbitrary invasions ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.).

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The ban on unreasonable searches and seizures basically affects the activities of law enforcement officers through limiting the actions these personnel may undertake when carrying out criminal investigation. Moreover, the prohibition also disallows unreasonable searches and seizures in the context of civil litigation. This legislation bans generalized searches unless the underlying situations are extraordinary to an extent that they place the general public in danger. Consequently, the law enforcement personnel may only carry out a search if personalized suspicion motivates the search.

This legislation was enacted in attempts to strike a balance between the interests of the society in criminal investigation and the civil right to privacy against government intrusion (Farb, 2002, p.13). Notably, it does not apply to actions by a private individual regardless of how unjustified, unless this private individual acts as an agent of government personnel or acts with their knowledge or involvement.

For law enforcement personnel to avoid illegal searching and seizing a suspect's property, they need to obtain search warrants. In order for the police to obtain a search warrant, they must show probable cause, must support the showing through an affirmation or oath, and must explain specifically the place they will search and property they will seize ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.). In this case, the judge can determine probable cause for issuing a search warrant through evaluating the totality of the conditions.

However, there are situations where the police can enter a private residence without a search warrant because of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. An example of such exception is the plain view doctrine where a government agent may seize property that was not included within the warrant but was in his/her plain view ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.). These officers are permitted to carry out warrantless searches and seizures if they find that difficult circumstances exist and they have probable cause. Furthermore, law enforcement officers can enter a private residence or building without a warrant to help in an emergency or if they receive voluntary consent to make a search without a warrant.

Analysis of the Scenario:

In this criminal scenario involving the death of Clyde Stevens due to an apparent stabbing by a large butcher knife, police officers carried out a warrantless search and seizure in the private property as part of their response to an emergency. This is evident in the fact that these personnel entered the private call with emergency medical service personnel following a call to 911. There were underlying exigent circumstances or need for immediate action that justified the entry of police without consent or warrant.

In order to understand whether the police had the legal right to access Ellis household, Mary's bedroom, and William's bedroom, there are various aspects to examine based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, physical entry of the home is the main evil against which the Fourth Amendment is geared towards addressing (Farb, 2002, p.15). This legislation stipulates various circumstances that may contribute to the need to obtain a search warrant to enter a private property and conditions that legally permit a warrantless search and seizure.

An analysis of this scenario shows that there are several legal concepts that acted as the basis of warrantless search and seizure by the police. The main legal concept that guided the search and seizure is exigent circumstances that required immediate action without a warrant. These officers carried out their criminal investigations as a means of responding to an emergency situation. Therefore, the law enforcement personnel did not necessarily require a search warrant or consent from Mrs. Ellis to conduct their investigations.

While this was a response to emergency, the law enforcement officers did not have legal right to access Ellis household, Mary's bedroom, and William's bedroom. It appears that the police tried to obtain evidence from the warrantless search of Ellis household through the legal murder scene exception. The murder scene exception cannot be used as a legal concept to obtain evidence in a crime scene through warrantless search. This is supported by the ruling in Mincey v. Arizona (1978) case where the court held that the fact that homicide occurs does not necessarily give rise to exigent circumstance that justify a warrantless search ("Legal Division Reference Book, 2012, p.176).

When these officers arrived at the crime scene, they made a prompt warrantless search of the scene to determine if the killer was within household. However, these personnel did not have the legal right to search the area without a warrant since there was no sign that evidence would be lost, removed, or destroyed during the period required to obtain a search warrant. Therefore, the search conducted on Ellis household, her bedroom, and William's bedroom was unreasonable based on the provisions of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Notably, since the warrantless search and seizure in Ellis household was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the collected evidence could not be used at trial against the suspect. This is supported by the ruling in Weeks v. United States (1914) where the Court unanimously held that evidence seized through warrantless searches should have been excluded by the trial court ("Fourth Amendment," 1992, p.1259). In this case, Weeks had been convicted based on evidence such as private papers that were seized from his home during two warrantless searches. Similarly, the evidence seized in Ellis household that linked William Ellis to the murder could not be used at trial because it was illegally obtained through warrantless search and seizure. This is based on the assumption that admission of illegitimately-obtained evidence violates the Fourth Amendment.

Exclusionary Rule and Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine:

The exclusionary rule applies equally to stages of investigation and accusation of a criminal prosecution. This rule can basically be described as situations where the court basically suppresses evidence obtained during an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment and offered against the accused ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.). The exclusionary rule is regarded as one of the main methods of enforcing the Fourth Amendment that is frequently used by the Supreme Court. The rule is used to enforce the protection of individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures as stipulated by the Fourth Amendment. The exclusionary rule is applied to both federal and state courts where illegally-seized evidence should be excluded from a trial court regardless of whether it's a state or federal court.

This is evident in the ruling in Mapp v. Ohio (1961) where the Court held that this rule should and did apply to State courts as a logical and constitutional necessity ("Fourth Amendment," n.d.). However, the evidence may still be introduced during a trial if the trial judge determines that the link between the evidence and illegitimate search and seizure is distant and tenuous. In Nardone v. United States (1939), the Court held that illegally-obtained evidence may still be introduced and admissible during trial if the connection between the evidence and illegitimate search is remote.

The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine is an extension of the exclusionary rule that was established in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States 1920 ("Fruit of the Poisonous Tree," 2010). The doctrine states that evidence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Criminal Investigation Scenario: Criminal Scene Investigators.  (2013, January 3).  Retrieved September 17, 2021, from

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"Criminal Investigation Scenario: Criminal Scene Investigators."  January 3, 2013.  Accessed September 17, 2021.