Chain of Custody, Essay Example

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Black’s Law Dictionary defines evidence as “any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention” (Morris, 1998). The concept of “chain of custody” refers to the manner in which evidence collected at a crime scene is collected and how the handling of evidence is documented to assure that it may be submitted in court proceedings.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless searches are permissible in some cases. Such searches are typically considered allowable when “exigent circumstances” exist. Exigent circumstances, in this context, typically refer to situations where police can reasonably believe a crime is being committed, such as the destruction of evidence. There are several cases that have come before the Supreme Court that involve police who claim to have smelled the odor of burning marijuana; if police have to take time to get a warrant in such instances, the evidence of drugs or drug use could be destroyed in the interim.

One recent controversial case where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a warrantless search was Kentucky v. King. Police were searching for a suspect in a drug sting when they went to the wrong apartment door. The police claimed that after they knocked on the door and announced themselves they heard sounds coming from inside the apartment and smelled marijuana smoke. Believing that the suspect could be destroying evidence they entered the apartment without a warrant, where they found marijuana and other drug-related evidence. Although they had entered the wrong apartment, they arrested the occupant on drug charges. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the search as legal based on exigent circumstances.

There are numerous other cases with similar outcomes. In United Sates v. Robinson police pulled over a suspect; after arresting him for driving without a license an office found a closed pack of cigarettes containing heroin. That search was upheld. In Terry v. Ohio an officer observed a suspect “casing” a business to rob it. The office searched the suspect and found a gun; that case was upheld on the basis of exigent circumstances. In Greenwood v. California the plaintiff was arrested after police searched garbage he had left for pickup. In that case the Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless search of the garbage was admissible as the plaintiff had no expectation of privacy regarding his garbage that was left on the curb.

References

Kentucky v. King. Supreme Court of the United States Syllabus. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1272.pdf

Morris, Ronald M. Evidence. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology. 12(2). July 1998. pp. 279-285.

Terry v. Ohio. Bloomberg Law Review. http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-procedure/criminal-procedure-keyed-to-saltzburg/searches-and-seizures-of-persons-and-things/terry-v-ohio-3/

The Constitution and Bill of Rights: Due Process and California v. Greenwood: A U.S. Supreme Court Case. http://www.crf-usa.org/c2c/pdf/ja_ms_sess2_guide.pdf.

United States v. Robinson. Bloomberg Law Review. http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-procedure/criminal-procedure-keyed-to-saltzburg/searches-and-seizures-of-persons-and-things/united-states-v-robinson-3/

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