It is a traditional belief in America that a man's home is his castle, meaning that he is lord and master of his home and no one may enter, not even the government, without his permission. This was such an important issue among the American colonists that it was included into the Constitution when they broke away from Great Britain. In short, the fourth amendment states that no private property could be searched or seized without a proper warrant; and a warrant could not be issued without due cause. Over time belief in this absolute principle has gradually softened and a number of exceptions to this rule have come into place. Police and other authorities have been given exceptions to this rule in certain circumstances and it is not uncommon for evidence, that was gathered without a warrant, to be accepted in a trial. This is the situation in the scenario where Mary Ellis finds a man stabbed with a knife on the floor of her walk-in closet. She is the one who called 911 and requested help from EMS personnel, who are always accompanied by the police. And when the police later find bloody fingerprint in the room of Mary's adult son William, and he is arrested for the crime, there are a number of questions about the behavior of the police in respect to the Fourth Amendment rights of both Mary and William.
The aversion to unreasonable searches and seizures of property has it roots in colonial America where colonists were often subject to searches and seizures by British authorities through what was known as "writs of assistance." These were "general warrants authorizing the bearer to enter any house or other place to search for seize 'prohibited and unaccustomed' goods." ("Fourth Amendment," p. 1282) As these writs were valid for the entire life of the king who issued them, these writs could be in effect for years, or even decades. American colonists were constantly plagued by British authorities using these writs to perform searches and seizures of property.
When America gained independence, the Founding Father's incorporated into the Constitution protection for the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Reasonable searches, which by definition are infringements of privacy, are permitted only when they take place by a governmental employee or by an agent of the government. Seizures, which "refer to the interference with an individual's possessory interests in property, can included the person or their physical property. ("The Fourth Amendment") The courts have determined in past cases that any evidence gathered by the government but which is found to have been gathered in a manner in violation of the Fourth Amendment is ordinarily excluded from trial in what is known as the "Exclusionary Rule." ("Mapp v. Ohio")
Because of the individual citizen's right to privacy inherent within the Constitution, law enforcement officers routinely obtain search warrants to avoid the problem of illegal searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires that no warrants be issued without probable cause, but what exactly constitutes probable cause has never been specifically defined in either the constitution or in federal statutes. The most basic definition that has been used for issuing search warrants in the past is "if the apparent facts set out in the affidavit are such that a reasonably discreet and prudent man would be led to believe that there was a commission of the offense charged." ("The Fourth Amendment," p.1301)
Despite the fundamental principle that private property cannot be searched or seized without a proper warrant, the courts have been forced to recognize that there are times when a search or seizure is appropriate without a warrant. Although these are the exceptions to the rule, they do exist and play a role in the legal system. Firstly there is the "plain view" doctrine which states that police may take possession of property not included in a warrant if it is in the plain view of the officer. The police also have the right to search and seize objects on a person if that person has been placed under arrest. They do not need to obtain a warrant for such a search. There is also an exception to the necessity of obtaining a warrant when exigent circumstances are involved. This means that an officer has a compelling reason to take action but lacks sufficient time to obtain a warrant. Probable cause in this circumstance is usually defined as the officer's belief, taken in the totality of the circumstances, that the search would turn up evidence. ("The Fourth Amendment: An Overview")
If the police are called to a residence or building to assist in an emergency, and they have no warrant, they can still enter the place without violating the fourth amendment. The existence of an emergency situation precludes the need for a warrant under the idea that there is someone who is in need of immediate help. There is also another exception to the need for a warrant, and that is when a person voluntarily allows a search of their premises. However, in cases where one person allows a search and another resident refuses, the refusal overrides the permission and the search is not allowed. However, if there is no refusal, then evidence gained against others in the residence is allowed. (Georgia v. Randolph)
In the scenario where Mary Ellis finds the body of her neighbor in her closet, her calling 911 precipitated an emergency situation where the police were legally entitled to enter her home. ("The Emergency Aid Exception") There was no need of a warrant to enter the premises because the owner of the home called 911 and asked for aid from EMS personnel and police. At the point where the police found the body and determined that it was dead, the home became a homicide scene. Because the police had already been invited into the home, when they found the body of the neighbor there was no need for a search warrant for the rest of the home. The case of Mincey v. Arizona set the precedent that a "warrantless search of a homicide scene is permissible under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." (Mincey v. Arizona) In this case, after a narcotics raid in which an officer and several suspects were killed, more police then investigated the premises as a murder scene and discovered narcotics. The suspect claimed that the police did not have a right to search the premises because there was no search warrant, but the violence that happened during the initial raid turned the premises into a homicide scene and therefore, after the determination was made that it was indeed a homicide crime scene, the police did not need further warrants to investigate. Anything discovered during the investigation of the homicide was admissible in court, even if it demonstrated another crime was committed.
The one issue in the scenario presented is the fact that the police found a bloody fingerprint in the bedroom of Mary Ellis' son William. Mary Ellis must be considered to be the owner of the home, but her son seems to live there without paying rent. Therefore he is not considered to be a tenant and Mary Ellis is not his landlord. Had this been the case, his room would have been off-limits to the police without his permission. But since Mary Ellis was the owner, and William was not the owner or tenant, she had the legal right to permit the police to search Williams bedroom long as William did not object. And while there is no direct permission given by Mary Ellis, the scenario did not specify that she told the police to search the entire house, her calling 911 implicitly gave the police to…