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Major Lesson Plan: United States Supreme Court Update

Jack Ryan

Target Audience: Law Enforcement personnel who may be faced with decisions that are impacted by the law from the United States Supreme Court.

Objective: Provide officers with training on new legal standards announced by the United States Supreme Court.

Format: Roll-call/ supervisory training.

Time: Five to ten minutes for each of the hypothetical sections, but this may be expanded where agency resources allow

Materials: Law Enforcement Risk Management Legal Update, May/June 2004.

Hypothetical #1 (In conjunction with this hypothetical, review state statute on possession crimes-with emphasis on “constructive” possession):

While on the highway, Officer Blackiweld observes a vehicle with a headlight out. Noting this violation of the motor vehicle the officer pulls the vehicle over. He notes that there are three occupants in the vehicle. While writing the violation he asks the driver, Tommy Twolips for consent to search the vehicle. Tommy consents. During a subsequent search, Officer Blackiweld recovers a back of marijuana under the front seat. All of the vehicle occupants deny knowledge of the marijuana.

Question: Does Officer Blackiweld have probable cause to arrest all three occupants of the vehicle?

Answer: Yes, these are identical facts to Maryland v. Pringle.

Hypothetical #1 Continued:

Instead of finding the marijuana under the seat, Officer Blackiweld finds the marijuana secereted in a backpack which also contains the driver’s license of the backseat passenger, Harry Gashat.

Question: Does Blackiweld have probable cause to arrest all three occupants.

Answer: Unless there is some indication (facts and circumstances known to the officer) that the remaining two occupants, in addition to Gashat are aware of the contents of the backpack, it is likely that probable cause will only exist as to Gashat since it appears to be his backpack.

Hypothetical #1 Continued:

Upon finding the drugs under the seat (not in the backpack), Officer Blackiweld asks the three occupants who the marijuana belongs to. Harry Gashat, the backseat passenger immediately indicates that the marijuana is his and the other two occupants knew nothing about it.

Question: Does Officer Blackiweld have probable cause to arrest all three occupants?

Answer: No, in this case, Blackiweld would only have probable cause to arrest Gashat.

Hypothetical #2

In the course of purging evidence from the property room at the (your name here) police/sheriff’s department in accordance with normal policy and procedure, officers mistakenly send a firearm, which was evidence in a robbery case, to destruction. Some months later, the robber, who had fled the jurisdiction for some time is caught. When the robber’s trial is about to begin it is learned that the gun used in the robbery, which had been in the possession of the police has been destroyed. The robber cries foul and wants the case against him dismissed.


Does the robber have any chance of having the case dismissed?

Answer: No, in order to prove a due process violation a defendant would first have to prove that the lost or destroyed evidence was exculpatory (tended to prove his innocence); second the defendant would have to show that there was no other means of establishing his innocence without the evidence; finally and most importantly, the defendant would have to show that the police got rid of the exculpatory evidence in bad faith.

Hypothetical #2 Continued:

Following the robbery with the gun, the police review a videotape that reveals that the robber was carrying a revolver. The gun which the detectives have in evidence is a semi-automatic pistol. Since all of the paperwork indicates that a handgun was seized from the defendant, Detective Fabricator goes to the evidence room and tells the evidence technician to send the handgun for destruction because it is no longer needed. All of these facts come out before the trial.

Question: Does the robber have a due process claim now?

Answer: Yes, the detective, following the review of the videotape, discovered that the handgun in police possession was potentially exculpatory and clearly had it destroyed in bad faith. Now the defendant could claim a due process violation.

Note, many states have enacted laws relating to property and evidence as well as “spoliation” of evidence.

Hypothetical #3

Officer Manson was recently assigned to the narcotics unit of our police department. After a very short time Manson completed his first investigation that resulted in probable cause to believe that Harry Gashat has a quantity of illegal narcotics in his home. Detective Manson meticulously drafted an affidavit and warrant particularly describing in all of the documents, the place to be searched and the items to be seized. After the warrant was signed, Manson and a team of officers responded to Gashat’s house and knocked at the door announcing “Police, Search Warrant.”

Question: If the officers received no response after 15-20 seconds, would it be reasonable to force entry into Gashat’s house?

Answer: Yes, based upon United States v. Banks , where an amount of time has passed that would enable the suspect to begin destroying the items sought, it would be reasonable for the officers to force entry.

Hypothetical #3 Continued:

If instead of searching for narcotics, Manson had instead obtained a search warrant for stolen goods, specifically, a truckload of Armani suits, and the same 15-20 seconds passed following the knock and announcement.

Question: Would it be reasonable for the officers to enter after only 15-20 seconds? No, in this case officers should wait longer since it would be impossible for someone to destroy a truckload of suits in 15-20 seconds.

Note, the nature of the items sought or articulated dangerousness to officers will have the greatest impact on the ability to force entry shortly after the knock and announce.

Hypothetical #4 (Applying the same facts as Hypothetical #3, specifically-Detective Manson drafting his first search warrant)

Prior to drafting his warrant, Detective Manson went to his supervisor, Sergeant Rivers and asked what paperwork he needed for the warrant. The sergeant dutifully provided Manson with a Warrant to be signed by the judge as well as an application and affidavit to be reviewed by the judge. Detective Manson filled out the paperwork and described the items to be seized (the Armani suits) in his application and affidavit, he did not describe the suits in the warrant. Manson then brought the paperwork to Sergeant Rivers for review.

Question: Will Sergeant Rivers allow Manson to proceed to the magistrate with his warrant?

Answer: No, the warrant itself must set out the items to be seized with particularity. It is not sufficient that the items description is in the application and affidavit. (See Groh v. Ramirez)

Question: If Manson had taken the paperwork to a less-knowledgeable sergeant for review and the less-knowledgeable sergeant had missed the mistake, could Detective Manson be held liable for violating the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights?

Answer: Yes, the law is clearly established and Detective Manson would be liable for damages.

Hypothetical #5

Following a rash of drunk-driving accidents, the chief of police requests all officers to submit ideas for problem-solving this issue. Officer Blocker submits a plan for sobriety checkpoints to be conducted on weekend nights. The checkpoints are to be advertised ahead of time, as well as posted with lighted signs when conducted. Officers are to stop vehicles based on a prescribed plan rather than at their discretion On the first night of the sobriety checkpoint. Larry Lush is arrested for DUI, he challenges the checkpoint as lacking in individualized suspicion.

Question: Do sobriety checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment?

Answer: No, (Michigan v. Sitz) when the checkpoints are conducted in accordance with a prescribed plan that limits officer discretion and when directed at removing dangerously impaired motorists from the roadway, such roadblocks do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Hypothetical #5 Continued:

Since the sobriety checkpoints worked so well, the chief decides to conduct narcotics interdiction checkpoints.

Question: Are drug interdiction checkpoints (away from the United States’ borders-note: borders are different) constitutionally authorized?

Answer: No (Indianapolis v. Edmond), checkpoints that seek evidence of wrongdoing by the motorist for general crime control purpose rather than imminently dangerous individuals violate the Constitution.

Hypothetical #5 Continued:

Following the attempted abduction of a child, police have reached a dead-end. The officers decide to seek the assistance of motorists who travel the area where the attempted-abduction took place at approximately the same time of day in hopes that a motorist may have seen something that would help identify the suspect.

Question: Is such a checkpoint authorized by the Constitution?

Answer: Yes (Illinois v. Lidster) allows the use of such checkpoints to seek information concerning serious crime.

As part of the Liability and Risk Management Institute’s continued effort to further manage the risk and reduce financial losses through lawsuits, each edition of the legal update will include a major lesson plan. This major lesson plan may be used as a method to conduct and document training.

How does it work?

Supervisors are provided with the legal update for review. The supervisor then presents the scripted lesson plan to officers to determine their level of knowledge/ability with respect to the topic presented.

Following an initial roll-call training, officers who have been presented with the material should be encouraged or required to review the legal update. At a subsequent roll-call, following the officers’ review of the legal update, a supervisor may review the scripted lesson-plan to reinforce what the officer has learned.

Agencies that utilize this method of training will be in a better position to defend failure to train claims while at the same time enhancing the professionalism of their department.

There are additional benefits as well which include, having the supervisor perform the function of a trainer and coach to his or her officers; and providing officers with greater knowledge regarding their profession to enhance their career development.

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