Write a Report Showing You Complied with the Fourth Amendment: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers
When police officers perform searches, they almost always comply with the Fourth Amendment. However, it is also necessary to write a report that makes clear that you complied and how.
The Fourth Amendment"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
"Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable." Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 572 (U.S. 2004).This means that if you conduct a search without a warrant, the court will start out assuming that you violated the suspect's rights and will stay with that assumption unless and until you explain and prove how you complied with the suspect's rights. If you write a report that fails to convincingly explain this, you could be inviting a defense attorney to move to suppress your evidence. When the judge learns that you submitted a report that failed to show that you complied with the suspect's rights, his ears might be less open to additional evidence to show that you really did.
Write a complete explanation of how you complied with the Fourth Amendment before submitting your report to the prosecutor.I have heard one defense attorney argue that an officer shouldn't be allowed to add to the case report to explain how he complied with the suspect's rights. Coming back later and trying to add information not in the original report after someone questioned it will, to some people, look suspicious. Some people will never believe the additional facts that you added after initially submitting the report are true.
It's always better to have a search warrant.A search with a search warrant is presumptively reasonable and lawful. If you have time to take a search warrant, it's always better to have one than to search without one and hope the judge agrees your search was lawful. You can take a search warrant to search: (1) A Parcel of Land--including the structures that are on it; (2) A Vehicle; or (3) Someone's person.