Getting around the Constitution

By Stephen Chapman Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Getting around the Constitution


Stephen Chapman Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell, who already has enough to keep her busy, may soon have to cope with yet another task - a flood of offers from people wanting to sell her Florida swampland by mail. After she accepted a police account of why they were justified in invading O.J. Simpson's estate without a search warrant, unscrupulous entrepreneurs could assume she'll buy anything.

The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures." The Supreme Court says that means illegally obtained evidence may not be used in criminal trials - a policy known as the exclusionary rule. So Kennedy-Powell was presented with the dilemma - whether to concentrate on enforcing the Constitution or punishing the guilty.

The detectives claimed they had good reason to climb over the wall surrounding his house even though they didn't have a search warrant. They needed to find the father of Nicole Simpson's children to arrange for their care. They had spotted blood on a Ford Bronco parked on the street and worried that someone might be bleeding to death inside. They feared a killer might be stalking Simpson. They weren't thinking of him as a suspect.

There were plenty of holes in the story, many of which the defense lawyers noted. If the cops were so concerned about child care, why didn't they call Nicole Simpson's parents? If they thought a bleeding victim was on the grounds, why didn't they get an ambulance? Why did they spend 15 minutes ringing the doorbell? Why didn't they check inside the main house? If they envisioned a stalker, why didn't they put on their protective vests, call for additional officers or draw their guns? If they didn't think of an estranged husband as a suspect in his ex-wife's murder, how did they get to be detectives?

The cops said they had to act quickly because there was a potential emergency, but they didn't behave as if there were an emergency. So a skeptical viewer might conclude that they jumped the wall because they hoped to find something interesting. They could have gotten a warrant beforehand, but that would have meant persuading a judge that a speck of blood on a car door was cause to think someone inside the fence had committed a murder. So they didn't bother until after they had found better clues.

In cases like this, though, judges don't usually need a strong reason to believe the cops - any halfway plausible excuse will do. …

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