Seizure

The term “seizure,” in the legal sense, can mean two things. Seizure examples can include the legal or forceful taking of something, such as evidence from a crime scene. Another seizure example is the act of physically overtaking or removing a person or object. To explore this concept, consider the following seizure definition.

Definition of Seizure

Noun

  1. The act of taking items from a crime scene that can serve as evidence.
  2. The act of overwhelming, removing, or grabbing a person or object.

Origin

1475 – 1485

What is Seizure?

Seizure meaning in the legal sense refers to the taking of evidence in connection with a suspected crime. Examples of seizure include the taking of drugs left out in the open, or the taking of a gun found on the floor at the scene of a shooting. The term “seizure” can also refer to the overwhelming, grabbing or removing or another person or object. An example of seizure in this sense can be a bouncer physically removing a patron from a nightclub for being too rowdy.

Search and Seizure

Search and seizure is the process by which law enforcement, believing a person may have committed a crime, “searches” the person’s property and “seizes” any evidence they find. In the United States, law enforcement must obtain a warrant from the court before conducting a search and seizure. A warrant is an official document signed by a judge that permits the police to conduct a search and seizure of the suspect’s premises.

However, there is an exception to the warrant requirement called “exigent circumstances.” What this means is that the situation requires the police to act quickly in order to prevent immediate harm to someone. In this case, the court may waive the warrant requirement, at least for the initial entry, search, and custody.

For instance, if the police believe the suspect is about to destroy or remove the evidence, they can act quickly to recover the evidence before the suspect destroys it. However, probable cause must still exist to support the officers in their actions. If there is no probable cause, then the officers are in violation of that waiver.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects all American citizens from unlawful search and seizure. This harkens back to the point made above that law enforcement must have probable cause before they conduct a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. They must also have a warrant.

To determine whether someone violates another person’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court created a three-prong test. This test determines whether the search and seizure was reasonable under the law:

  • How well the authorities serve the public interest in making the seizure
  • To what extent the public interest benefits from the seizure
  • How significantly the seizure impacts a person’s freedom

Modern Technology and Legalities of Search and Seizure

Modern technology has greatly affected the legalities of search and seizure in recent years. Seizure examples that modern technology has had a hand in include the information people post to social media, and the information people store in their cell phones. Modern technology has made it easier for the government to intrude upon people’s private information.

The argument then becomes whether lawmaker need to update the legalities of search and seizure of how differently authorities obtain information in this modern age. Some people believe that if people are putting their information out there, such as in the case of social media, they understand that they are making that information available publicly, and have no claim to privacy.

Seizure Example Involving an Illegal Gambling Racket

A landmark example of seizure to come before the U.S. Supreme Court occurred in the matter of Mapp v. Ohio. Here, Dollree Mapp worked in the illegal gambling business in Cleveland, Ohio. In May of 1957, police officers in the area received an anonymous tip that Virgil Ogletree might be at Mapp’s house. The police wanted to bring Ogletree in for questioning in the bombing of the home of rival racketeer and future boxing promoter, Don King. The anonymous caller also tipped off the police that they would find evidence in that home of an illegal betting operation organized by Mapp’s boyfriend.

The Search and Seizure

Three officers went to Mapp’s home and asked Mapp’s permission to enter the premises. Mapp called her lawyer, who instructed her to refuse to allow them entry without a search warrant. Thirteen hours later, four police cars arrived. When the officers knocked on the door, Mapp didn’t answer. They forced their way into the home, and when Mapp asked to see the warrant, she snatched it away and put it in her dress. The officers tussled with Mapp and recovered the paper, which neither she nor her lawyers ever saw again.

The police handcuffed Mapp and continued their search. They ultimately found Ogletree hiding in the apartment of the downstairs tenant. They also found betting slips and other paraphernalia, including a pistol, in the basement, along with pornographic materials and books. Mapp claimed the materials belonged to a former tenant who left them behind. The police arrested Mapp and charged her with the misdemeanor of possessing gambling paraphernalia.

Conviction and Appeal

The court cleared the possession charge against Mapp. However, she refused to testify at the trial several months later into the matter of those who were trying to take down Don King. The court then prosecuted her for possession of the pornographic materials in violation of Ohio law and sentenced her to spend one to seven years in prison.

Mapp appealed the conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the police violated her Fourth Amendment rights, that they did not have probable cause to suspect her of possessing the pornographic books. She also argued that the police could not use the books as evidence against her because the police had found the books without a warrant, and so had seized them unlawfully.

Supreme Court Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Mapp’s favor, 6 to 3. The Court overturned her conviction and held that the Fourth Amendment demands the exclusion of any evidence seized in violation of the Constitution. Said the Court, in referencing prior case law:

“…in the year 1914, in the Weeks case, this Court ‘for the first time’ held that, ‘in a federal prosecution, the Fourth Amendment barred the use of evidence secured through an illegal search and seizure.’ [Citation omitted.]

This Court has ever since required of federal law officers a strict adherence to that command which this Court has held to be a clear, specific, and constitutionally required—even if judicially implied—deterrent safeguard without insistence upon which the Fourth Amendment would have been reduced to ‘a form of words.’ [Citation omitted.]

It meant, quite simply, that ‘conviction by means of unlawful seizures and enforced confessions… should find no sanction in the judgments of the courts…’ [Citation omitted], and that such evidence ‘shall not be used at all.’ [Citation omitted.]”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
  • Probable Cause – Facts and circumstances leading to the belief that an accused person has committed a crime. Probable cause does not arise from a suspicion or a “hunch,” but from observable facts and circumstances.

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