We have already gone over the exclusionary rules associated with unwarranted searches and seizures, now we need to look at warranted searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment requires that no warrants be issued unless based on probable cause by a sworn Affirmation, this applies to all warrants whether they are for search or seizure. In order to understand the concept behind warrants, we must also understand probable cause. The Supreme Court has defined probable cause as more than mere suspicion. The facts an officer is acting upon must be enough to convince the average person that the suspect committed or is committing the offense being investigated. (Worrall, 2012) In the academy they stressed this as less than beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than a hunch; which leaves a large area in between. In New York State a controversial law was passed after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Massachusetts. This law is referred to as the SAFE Act, and it has led to many questions regarding the enforcement of portions of the law.
One portion in particular is in regards to checking the magazine in a weapon and when law enforcement has the authority to do so. An article in the Niagara Falls Reporter dated April 22, 2013 speaks directly to an arrest made of an individual when police checked the magazine from his firearm and it contained ten rounds of ammunition in it, three more than the new law allowed legally. (Hudson, 2013) In fact, at the time of his arrest the law actually stated that a handgun could not contain a magazine capable of holding more than seven rounds of ammunition. The law was passed in early 2014 and was later amended, after much public outcry over the fact that seven round magazines were not available on the market; the amendment made it legal for a ten round magazine, but still limited the amount contained in the magazine at any time to seven rounds.
In this case, Mr. Wojden was a passenger of a vehicle that was stopped for a traffic infraction. When asked if there were any weapons in the vehicle, Mr. Wojden did the responsible thing and advised the police of the weapon and produced his valid handgun permit. When an officer cleared the weapon, removed all ammunition to unload the firearm, the magazine was separated from the firearm and placed to the side. An inspection of the magazine revealed that the magazine was capable of holding ten rounds, and was loaded with ten rounds. Mr. Wojden was subsequently arrested and charged with a class B Misdemeanor under the new law. (Hudson, 2013) This is where the new law, and lack of guidance for its enforcement, is viewed by most to have violated the Fourth Amendment. Police stated that after the firearm was made safe, the magazine was inspected under reasonable suspicion that the magazine was illegal. This amounted to an illegal search, which led to an illegal seizure of Mr. Wojden and his firearm.
In addition, because of the arrest police later confiscated all other handguns listed on his permit. (Hudson, 2013) By conducting the initial search without probable cause, the officers managed to violate this man’s rights and essentially made all actions taken from that point on violations. In September the New York State Police came out with a guide advising police of their requirements for probable cause to even check a magazine for it’s capacity or the amount of ammunition actually contained therein. Police are advised that there needs to be probable cause to suspect the magazine is illegal, included in this probable cause requirement is a clause stating that the fact that there is a magazine does not provide the probable cause that a law has been broken. (The Office of Division Counsel, 2013) In other words, after a weapon is made safe, there is no justification to inspect, or search, the magazine or its contents. (Garrison, 2013) Searches on homes are typically done with a warrant, but as is shown in this case and countless others exceptions are made where a search can be conducted without obtaining a warrant. The most obvious exception, that most people see, are searches of vehicles on the side of the road.
These searches can be conducted based on either voluntary consent from the operator or by probable cause developed through plain sight items in the vehicle or a conversation the officer has with the operator. Another exception is known as a stop and frisk, commonly called a Terry stop, where an officer stops an individual and may conduct a quick search to ensure the person has no weapons. These searches cannot be conducted just because an officer wants to check the individual; even a simple pat down search needs to be backed by cause. The Wojden case serves as an example of how probable cause can often be confused with reasonable suspicion, and why it is so important for law enforcement and the everyday citizen to understand the differences. In this case, as a result of an illegal search, a person’s freedom was taken away over this confusion.
Further, the police showing up at his residence to take all other handguns listed on his permit amounted to an invasion of the privacy of his home. It is important to remember that although laws are made to protect the public or an individual, each person’s individual rights need to be protected. Searches and seizures, whether conducted with or without a warrant, must be done as a result of probable cause. Probable cause is more than just a suspicion, the facts and circumstances must be enough to convince the average person that an offense is being or was committed by the suspect. If we, as a society, allow our most basic rights to be overlooked it can lead to a loss of additional rights. This is what the framers of the Constitution were afraid of, and why these rights were articulated specifically in the “law of the land”.
Garrison, D. (2013, October 18). Freedom Outpost. Retrieved October 10, 2014, from www.freedomoutpost.com Hudson, M. (2013, April 22). Niagara Falls Reporter. Retrieved October 10, 2014, from The Niagara Falls Reporter, Inc.: www.niagarafallsreporter.com The Office of Division Counsel. (2013, September). Guide to The New York Safe Act. New York State Police. Worrall, J. L. (2012). Criminal Procedure: From First Contact to Appeal, Fourth Edition,. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson