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Supreme Court makes an important ruling on search and seizure

Scrutiny of a California law enforcement officer's conduct during a search of a person's residence or vehicle is usually a key part of any criminal defense preparation. While court rulings over the last several decades have carved out numerous exceptions, it is still highly preferable for a police officer or other law enforcement official to have a search warrant before conducting a search.

One of the most widely known exceptions to the search warrant requirement is known as the "plain view" doctrine. Under this legal precedent, if law enforcement officials see drugs or other contraband during the regular course of their duties simply because those objects happen to be right in front of them, a search warrant is not required to seize the evidence and make an arrest. The plain view doctrine was recently invoked in a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was knocked down.

According to the reports, a police officer entered a person's vehicle after the person had been involved in a car accident. The police officer was simply reaching into the vehicle to get the person's vehicle registration and insurance information, but while doing so, the officer observed a handgun and marijuana. An arrest was made based on this finding.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled that the police officer did not have the driver's permission to enter the vehicle to begin with -- the police officer apparently did not even ask. And, there was no evidence that the vehicle was going to be impounded in the aftermath of the accident, so the argument that the evidence would have been discovered anyway was also shot down. As a result, the search and seizure of the evidence was deemed unconstitutional.

In these types of situations, protecting an individual's rights can be complicated. As a result, contacting an attorney may be the best option.

Source: Courier-Post, "Supreme Court rules against gun seizure," Jim Walsh, Aug. 3, 2015

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