Usually, police must either have probable cause or a warrant to search an individual or his property.
If evidence is collected through an illegal search and seizure (meaning that no probable cause was present or the police did not have a proper warrant to search the defendant or his premises), then the evidence must be excluded at court.
Even though the exclusion of such evidence during trial is a constitutional protection that defendants should be granted, under the doctrine of inevitable discovery, sometimes the illegally obtained evidence may be allowed into court anyway.
When Does Inevitable Discovery Apply?
The doctrine of inevitable discovery means that even though evidence was illegally obtained, it would have been discovered if the police followed proper procedure.
If the court determines that police would have discovered the evidence anyway, then the misconduct of the officers is excused and the evidence can be used against the defendant.
For example, imagine there is a burglary spree in Chicago where the perpetrator smashes through windows using a fire extinguisher to steal valuable jewelry from retail stores.
Witnesses describe the suspect, and the police stop someone who matches the description near Millennium Park and search her trunk. During the search, they find a fire extinguisher and several pieces of fine jewelry.
Under normal circumstances, items found during this search would not be admissible in court because of the illegality of the search.
But, the prosecution may argue that the police could have gotten a search warrant based on the description of the suspect and validly searched the defendant’s trunk, so the result would have been the same whether or not police followed proper procedure.
If the judge agrees, the evidence will be admitted against the defendant despite violation of her constitutional rights.
Where Did The Inevitable Discovery Doctrine Come From?
Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984) is a United States Supreme Court case that is considered the origin of the inevitable discovery doctrine. Robert Williams, the defendant, was an escaped mental patient who kidnapped and murdered a ten-year-old girl from a local YMCA.
Two days later, the defendant turned himself in and told police they could drive him to the county jail if they agreed not to interrogate him during the ride.
Despite his request, police questioned the defendant during the trip and eventually he led police to the victim’s body.
The evidence of the body was used against Williams during trial and he was found guilty, but upon appeal, the court reversed the decision because the defendant’s constitutional rights had been violated.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the prosecution successfully convinced the justices that even if police had not interrogated the defendant, the body would have ultimately been found by law enforcement.
The Supreme Court agreed, and the inevitable discovery doctrine officially became a recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment search and seizure laws.
Modern Day Inevitable Discovery
Though this doctrine has been part of the law since at least 1984, it does not always succeed in court. In a 2016 Illinois case, People v. Carter, 2016 IL App (3d) 140958, an appeals court held that inevitable discovery did not apply to a search that revealed a firearm.
In the case, police executed a valid search warrant for illegal drugs and contraband in a Rock Island duplex. In the basement of the duplex, where a man named Murray lived, police found contraband.
Murray was placed in handcuffs and escorted outside. The police also searched the main floor, where the defendant lived, and did not find any evidence or paraphernalia, so they concluded the search and exited the duplex.
About fifteen minutes later, an officer returned to the duplex and told the defendant they needed to check one more thing. The officer flipped the couch in the defendant’s living room and discovered a firearm.
The defendant was arrested for possession of an illegal firearm and other related charges. Upon review of the evidence, it was determined that the only reason the officer knew to search the couch was because Murray told the police, while detained, that all the contraband belonged to the defendant and that he was hiding a gun in his couch.
The prosecution argued that the gun would have been found anyway, because they could have obtained a warrant to re-search the premises. They also argued that the search was still in progress when they re-entered the house and located the gun.
The appeals court disagreed, and held that since all officers left the house and the firearm was not located during the valid search, that the legal search had concluded before the gun was located.
The officers did not get permission to re-enter the home and search for the gun, nor did they have a valid warrant allowing them to re-enter the premises.
The only reason the police found the firearm was because Murray told them its location as he was trying to shift the blame for the contraband on the defendant.
Call Abdallah Law Today
In cases involving guns and contraband, many defendants believe that just because something was found on their person or their property by an officer, the evidence will be used against them.
With experienced attorneys like those here at Abdallah law, evidence obtained during searches and seizures may be excluded.
Contact us today at 312-854-2677 for a free consultation so we can begin to fight for you.