What is inevitable discovery and why is it important if police don’t have probable cause for a search?
Our criminal defense law firm represents individuals charged with crimes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A critical issue that our firm often deals with in these cases is illegal search and seizure, especially in felony crimes involving the illegal possession of drugs, narcotics, firearms, and other weapons.
In some cases, police discover weapons or drugs following a vehicle accident. Frequently, police in many situations do not follow proper investigative procedure during these accidents, but ultimately discover contraband within the vehicle which is often unoccupied and unsecured. In these situations, the legal concept known as Inevitable Discovery is key to a strong defense argument
What is Inevitable Discovery?
Inevitable Discovery is an exception to the illegal search and seizure rule in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is a legal principal that states, that evidence should not be excluded for misconduct if police or law enforcement would have inevitably discovered that evidence through a lawful procedure. In this situation, the prosecution must establish by clear and convincing evidence that had the illegality not occurred, it would have pursued accepted and established procedures that would have inevitably discovered the evidence in question.
What happens after a vehicle accident that turns it into a criminal prosecution?
In a case of a vehicle accident, persons are often removed from the vehicle prior to police coming on the scene. Once the person is removed, however, police often go back into the vehicle without a warrant to determine the cause of the accident and if a person was possibly impaired or intoxicated at the time of the incident.
In Pennsylvania, warrantless searches are typically illegal, while they are allowed in New Jersey. While they are permissible in New Jersey, police need probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. In Pennsylvania, police need probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
In a case of a vehicle accident without some indication that the alleged driver or occupants were impaired (DUI/DWI), the police likely do not have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search and reasonable suspicion is insufficient for such a search. This is the reason why as criminal defense lawyers we advise clients to never consent to search.
What is an Inventory Search?
It is important to keep in mind, however, that police do not need evidence of impairment to conduct a warrantless search and may conduct an inventory search in the alternative. This means that the vehicle will be towed because it is not drivable or possibly blocking a roadway. Police may conduct an inventory search to secure all valuables on a property sheet. An inventory search is not as extensive as a search based on a warrant or under sufficient probable cause (warrantless), but it nevertheless will likely discovery most contraband in these situations.
Why established police procedures are important?
Established procedures within the police department are critical areas for any defense based on police misconduct where inevitable discovery and inventory searches are possible arguments. If police are not following a procedure, this is a prime target for any criminal defense lawyer through a motion to suppress evidence. If you’re charged with an illegal gun crime in New Jersey, you face a mandatory minimum State prison sentence. While Pennsylvania does not have any mandatory minimum sentences for most gun crimes, it is nevertheless a felony offense which subjects you to State prison.
If you are charged with a crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey involving the illegal possession of guns, firearms, drugs, narcotic or any contraband, illegal search and seizure is an important issue. Contact our law firm today for help with this legal matter!
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