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Q: criminal law - admissability of evidence ( Answered,   4 Comments )
Question  
Subject: criminal law - admissability of evidence
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: cidly-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 31 Jul 2002 16:57 PDT
Expires: 30 Aug 2002 16:57 PDT
Question ID: 47745
Hypo - The body of Nicole Simpson was actually found on the front law
of the OJ Simpson home shortly after midnight following a call to the
LAPD by Kato Kallin who heard a disturbance outside.  Discovering the
body was Detective Mark Furman.  Furman, following a train of blood
from Nicole to the front door of the Simpson home, knocked on the
door.  The door wqas adjar and Furman continued to follow the trail of
blood which eventually led to OJ's bedroom, where Furman found the two
bloody socks.  Is the evidence of the socks admissable, was it
properly obtained although without a search warrant?  Please be
specific in your answer, citing California Rules of Evidence and any
applicable case law.
Answer  
Subject: Re: criminal law - admissability of evidence
Answered By: expertlaw-ga on 05 Aug 2002 23:32 PDT
 
Dear Cidly

The best place to begin an analysis of your hypothetical is with the
question of whether the evidence is admissible even though the officer
did not have a search warrant. Once it is established that the
evidence was not improperly seized, and thus that the "exclusionary
rule" (which keeps certain improperly seized evidence from being
admitted in criminal proceedings) does not apply, I will analyze the
evidentiary issues which may affect its admissibility.

Before we begin, here is some background information to help you find
relevant case law on line, if you want to look up the cases referenced
in the analysis.

The California cases referenced below are available online, although
you must first register for a free online research service. For
example, once you register you can easily look up the cases by name,
citation, or keyword.
http://www.findlaw.com/cacases/index.html 

In case you are not familiar with citations to case law, they
typically take the following form: <Volume Number> <Publication> <Page
Number>. Thus, 210 Cal.Rptr. 631 refers to volume 210 of the
California Reporter, at page 631. If two page numbers are referenced,
e.g., 210 Cal.Rptr. 631, 635, it means that the case begins at page
631, but that the portion of the case relevant to the legal issue
under discussion can be found on page 635.

1. The Necessity of a Search Warrant

Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,
when the police search a person?s home they must ordinarily first
obtain a search warrant. In order to obtain a search warrant, an
officer must provide a sworn statement or testimony, providing a
magistrate or judge with sufficient facts to determine if there is
probable cause to issue a search warrant. You can read the Fourth
Amendment, with detailed annotations, on FindLaw at
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment04/ 

States are free to set more stringent standards for searches and
seizures that occur within their borders, conducted by officers of the
state, but they cannot set less stringent standards than those imposed
by the U.S. Constitution. For example, some states hold that a person
has an expectation of privacy in garbage set out on the curb, although
the United States Supreme Court has held that such an expectation is
not reasonable and thus that no warrant is required to search curbside
trash under the U.S. Constitution.

In California, in the early 1980?s, the voters approved Proposition 8,
amending the California constitution (art. I,  28, subd. (d)) by
declaring that, with certain exceptions, "relevant evidence shall not
be excluded in any criminal proceeding." The principal effect of that
provision was to prohibit application of the "exclusionary rule" to
evidence gathered in violation of the state Constitution's search and
seizure clause (art. I,  13) unless exclusion is compelled by federal
constitutional law. (For a discussion of this rule, see In re Lance W.
37 Cal.3d 873 , 888-890, 210 Cal.Rptr. 631, 694 P.2d 744 (1985)). 
Thus, at present, there are few differences between California state
law and federal law, with regard to the exclusion of improperly
obtained evidence. You can review Article I of California?s State
Constitution at
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/.const/.article_1 

If the defendant wishes to argue that the evidence was improperly
seized in violation of the warrant requirement, the defendant must
first establish that he has "standing" to challenge the legality of
the search. It is not enough that the police violated *somebody?s*
rights in finding and seizing the evidence. In order to successfully
exclude evidence, the defendant must show that his own, personal
rights were violated. There is a discussion of when a defendant does
or does not have standing to challenge a search in People v. Madrid, 7
Cal.App.4th 1888; 9 Cal.Rptr.2d 798 (1992).

Your hypothetical does not address whether the defendant has any
connection with the house where the socks were discovered. If the
defendant lived in the house at the time of the search, he would have
standing to challenge the search. If the defendant were a guest
staying temporarily in the house, and the socks were found in the
defendant?s private bedroom (or, recalling Kato?s situation, in a
guesthouse), he probably could successfully convince the court that he
had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that room. However, if the
defendant did not reside in the home, or if the socks were found in an
area of the house where the defendant did not have an expectation of
privacy, the defendant would be unable to exclude the evidence even if
the search were illegal. There is discussion on the connection a
suspect must have with a house in order to have standing to challenge
a search, in People v. Koury 214 Cal.App.3d 676; 262 Cal.Rptr. 870
(1989).
	
Assuming that the defendant establishes that he has standing to
challenge the search, the burden of proof shifts to the prosecutor to
prove by a preponderance of the evidence that an exception to the
warrant requirement applies. Exceptions to the warrant requirement
include "hot pursuit", "exigent circumstances", "community caretaker"
doctrine and "plain view". (This case would not involve "hot pursuit",
as the officer was not pursuing a suspect when he entered the house.)

The prosecutor would probably be able to convince a court that the
"exigent circumstances" exception applies. That is, the police officer
might believe that the offender was still on the premises, and that it
was important to act before the offender escaped. This exception does
not give the officer an unbridled power to search the premises ? but
he can act to secure possible evidence from being damaged or
destroyed, for people who may be hiding in the premises. The officer
may typically search for weapons in any room where he finds people,
including within drawers and containers. This exception was discussed
in People v. Cain 216 Cal.App.3d 366; 264 Cal.Rptr. 339 (1989), where
the court allowed warrantless entry into a home where a violent rape
had occurred next door, there was no response to a knock on the door
by police and opening of the door revealed from outside the residence
there was a body on the floor.

Another argument for warrantless entry would be under "community
caretaker" which enter premises without a warrant where something bad
might happen if he does not act. Securing the safety of other people
within the home and summoning medical care for anybody who might be
wounded would be a high priority for an officer coming across a murder
scene. In this context, also, the officer would be able to search for
possible offenders still on the premises, and to perform weapon
searches as described above. In People v. Ray, 21 Cal.4th 464, 88
Cal.Rptr.2d 1; 981 P.2d 928 (1999),  the court permitted a warrantless
entry into a home that appeared to have been burglarized, even though
the officer did not find any people or suspects within the home, on
the basis of the officer?s statement that he ?was concerned for
possibly the life and property on the inside of the house, welfare of
the people inside.?

In the scenario you describe, the officer would have reason for
concern that the suspect might be in the house, and thus that other
residents of the house were in danger, or that the blood trail was
that of another victim who might need emergency assistance to save his
life.

If the court accepts that the "community caretaker" or "exigent
circumstances" exceptions apply, the officer?s following the blood
trail would be directly related to the circumstances justifying the
exception. As the socks were on the floor of the room, in open sight
of anybody who entered the room, they were in "plain view". (Even if
the officer looked in other rooms, given the possibility that the
murderer was in the house a court would likely find this to be
reasonable under the circumstances. The officer has a right to act to
protect his own safety. Also, the fact that there is a blood trail to
a particular room does not necessarily mean that there aren?t victims
in other rooms.)

Sometimes a defendant might argue that the officer?s excuse for entry
was a "sham", but it would be difficult to raise that argument unless
the officer was searching areas of the house where he could not
reasonably find another victim. Had the officer found the socks on the
top shelf of the closet, it would be difficult for him to argue that
his purpose in looking on that top shelf related to the exigent
circumstances which led him to enter the house. However, if the socks
were in plain sight to a person who entered the room, or would have
been in the line of sight of a person following the blood trail or
looking in areas where a person might be hiding, such an argument
would not succeed.

Finally, even if the trial court found that the officer should have
obtained a warrant before entering the house, the prosecutor would
argue that the police would have been able to obtain a warrant, and
thus that the evidence should be admitted under the principle of
"inevitable discovery". Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 443, fn. 4, 81
L.Ed.2d 377, 104 S.Ct. 2501 (1984); People v. Berry, 224 Cal.App.3d
162, 273 Cal.Rptr. 509 (1990). This exception applies where a warrant
would have been subsequently issued to authorize the search, under the
theory that this purges any "taint" from the prior improper police
action.

Given the facts you describe, there is no question but that a
magistrate presented with those facts would authorize a search warrant
for the premises. Thus, this exception would likely be applied by the
court. The defendant would not be in a position to argue that the
evidence would have been destroyed, had the officer waited until a
warrant was available before entering the home, as that would be
tantamount to admitting that there were exigent circumstances at the
time of the officer?s entry. That is, if the defendant was present in
the home and in a position to destroy the evidence, he would
effectively be admitting that the officer?s entry would be justified
not only to protect and preserve that evidence, but also that the
officer?s concern for the possibility that other people were in the
home and at risk was well-founded.
 
2. Admissibility of the Evidence

Evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment is typically kept
out of evidence under the "exclusionary rule" ? a rule enunciated by
the Supreme Court to give meaning to the warrant requirement.
Assuming, as is likely, that the trial court held that no warrant was
required under the circumstances, the defendant may nonetheless object
to its admission into evidence.

In order to admit the evidence, the prosecutor would have to establish
a "foundation" for admitting the evidence. In a criminal case, this
typically means "authenticating" the evidence by establishing that the
evidence presented at trial is the same evidence that was seized at
the crime scene, and establishing a "chain of custody" to show that
the evidence was properly safeguarded between the time it was seized
and the time it was presented in court. The court?s preliminary
analysis occurs primarily under Sections 410 and 403 of the California
Evidence Code, which can be reviewed online at
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=evid&group=00001-01000&file=400-406

If the prosecutor was unable to authenticate the socks, the defense
could likely successfully object to their admission on the basis of
relevance. A pair of socks with no relation to the crime scene would
not help a jury decide the issue of guilt or innocence, and a pair of
socks that cannot be authenticated as being from the crime scene is no
more relevant to guilt or innocence than any other pair of socks in
the world. Similarly, if the prosecutor could not establish a "chain
of custody" whereby the socks were clearly in the control of the
police from the time they were seized at the crime scene to the time
they were presented at trial, a defendant would be able to challenge
their admission on the basis that there might have been some tampering
or contamination of the socks as evidence. For discussion of what a
prosecutor must establish to satisfy the "chain of custody"
requirement, see County of Sonoma v. Grant W., 187 Cal.App.3d 1439,
1449, 232 Cal.Rptr. 471 (1986); People v. Lozano 57 Cal.App.3d 490,
495, 127 Cal.Rptr. 204 (1976).

Even if the socks were directly connected to the crime scene, the
suspect may attempt to argue that they are not relevant ? that their
admission would not help the jury reach its ultimate finding of guilt
or innocence. (See, generally, People v. Warner 270 Cal.App.2d 900, 76
Cal.Rptr. 160 (1969), in which the court discusses when evidence is or
is not relevant.) At the same time, the prosecutor would respond that
the socks are being introduced to reflect the crime scene as it was
found, or (if the socks are believed to belong to the defendant) that
they reflect the killer?s cold reflection as he cleaned himself up
after committing the murder. Under this argument, a court would likely
admit the socks on the basis that they would help the jury understand
the crime scene and the defendant?s state of mind.

Another argument is that admitting bloody socks is "more prejudicial
than probative". That is, that the jury would be so overcome by an
emotional reaction to the socks that their judgment would be affected.
Given the frequent use of graphic crime scene and autopsy photographs
and the frequent admission of bloody clothing by prosecutors at trial,
it would be a truly uphill battle to convince a court that bloody
socks would have an unduly prejudicial effect on the jury.  (See,
e.g., People v. Anderson, 25 Cal.4th 543, 106 Cal.Rptr.2d 575, 22 P.3d
347 (2001), upholding a trial court?s admission of crime scene and
autopsy photographs.)


Additional Links

Although you won?t find an answer to this question through a Google
search, you will find many resources which are useful for analyzing
questions of this type:

* "California Case Law"
://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=california+case+law


* "California Criminal Procedure"
://www.google.com/search?q=california+criminal+procedure 


* "California Search Seizure"
://www.google.com/search?q=california+search+seizure 


Some of the best California legal resources online are:

* Findlaw?s collection of legal links, articles, resources, case law
and statutes. (FindLaw requires free registration for full access to
its resources.)
http://california.lp.findlaw.com/


* Cornell Law School?s "Legal Information Institute", which links to
reliable sources of primary legal reference materials, available for
free online.
http://www.law.cornell.edu/states/california.html 


I hope you find this helpful,

- expertlaw
Comments  
Subject: Re: criminal law - admissability of evidence
From: secret901-ga on 31 Jul 2002 17:14 PDT
 
Hint to researchers:
Try this link: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/calawquery?codesection=evid&codebody=&hits=20
Subject: Re: criminal law - admissability of evidence
From: weisstho-ga on 31 Jul 2002 17:59 PDT
 
Dear Cidly,
     Respectfully, the answer to your question does not invoke the use
of the California Rules of Evidence, but rather is a fairly straight
forward Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure question as would be
supplemented by California court decisions.
     It would be my opinion that the socks are admissible; but the
defendant may have an excellent chance of suppressing the evidence.
     Interesting fact pattern!  Thanks for a neat question.
weisstho-ga
Subject: Re: criminal law - admissability of evidence
From: expertlaw-ga on 31 Jul 2002 20:34 PDT
 
Assuming the blood trail is fresh, given that scenario, I would put
the odds of suppression somewhere between slim and none.

A police officer who discovers a dead body on a front lawn and a blood
trail into a house would be able to claim exceptions to the warrant
requirement for entering the house. First, the blood trail might
evidence that there was another person in the house, who may be
wounded. Second, the blood trail might indicate that the murderer was
in the house, and thus that other people in the house were in danger.
Either way, the "exigent circumstances" would allow the officer to
enter the home and follow the blood trail, even without a warrant.

Also, even if a judge found that the officer should have waited for a
warrant, the "inevitable discovery" principle would apply - the
officer *would* have been issued a warrant, and would inevitably have
discovered the socks while executing that warrant. (A defense argument
that the murderer would have removed the socks would play right into
the hands of the prosecutor's "exigent circumstances" argument.)
Subject: Re: criminal law - admissability of evidence
From: weisstho-ga on 01 Aug 2002 06:27 PDT
 
Expertlaw's brief explanation of the search exceptions is excellent, as usual.

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