I look at this case.

A cop saw expensive stereo. The cop check the serial number and found that the stereo was stolen.

The cop move the stereo a bit and get the serial number. The evidence is thrown out of court.

However, I've heard cops can seize cash on even less suspicion.

Basically many cops see cash, think it's from drug dealing, and seize it.

The mere act of bringing cash is punishable by civil forfeiture without trial.

By that logic, the cop that suspect the stereo is from a crime, should also be able to seize the stereo.

Once the stereo is seized, it's easy to just look at the back and see the serial number.

Another way to look at this:

Why didn't the cop just use civil forfeiture laws to seize the stereo and then, after the stereo is on cops' hand, the cop can just see the serial number?

Did the cop have a right to seize the stereo under civil forfeiture law?

Can the cop see the stereo serial number after seizing the stereo?

If the answer two both question is yes, then why bother getting a warrant to look behind?

Also, what should have the cop done on that circumstances to capture the burglar? Nothing?

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    You even linked to the Wikipedia article about the case, which states exactly why moving the stereo wasn't acceptable as a source of evidence and therefore excluded. No reference for arbitrary seizure of cash either. – Nij Feb 23 '18 at 8:58
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    The term "seizure" is used in distinct legal ways. The above case is about "taking to be used as evidence", which has a higher standard of proof, versus "confiscating and converting as property", which is arbitrary seizure of cash. The can also seize stuff, not just cash. – user6726 Feb 23 '18 at 15:20
  • Well, seizing something seems to be much more serious than just look over it. The cops could just use civil forfeiture to seize the stereo, and after that "found out" that the stereo is stolen. Actually, that's where the problem is. Why "confiscating and converting as property" has less standard of proof. Isn't that more serious than just "checking"? – user4951 Mar 5 '18 at 19:32
  • I think you need to think through what you are asking, so that you can make the question clear enough that someone might give an answer that you think is "the point". – user6726 Mar 6 '18 at 15:19
  • I thought it's clear enough. Even before the update. Basically an answer would need to explain that search is more serious than seizure, and hence requires more burden of proof. Notice that if the cop choose to seize, that it can also easily search. – user4951 Mar 6 '18 at 16:12

In the Hicks case, police entered the premise, reasonably, pursuant a bullet having been fired from Hicks' apartment into a person in the apartment below. There were expensive stereo components in plain sight, which raised a reasonable suspicion. But that reasonable suspicion did not justify a further search, which police nevertheless conducted: they turned the stereo to get the serial numbers. Having phoned in the numbers and learning that the items were stolen, they then had probable cause for a seizure. That cause was, however, obtained via an illegal search.

Suppose that the serial numbers had been visible from the front: then because they would have been in plain view and since the police were there for a reasonable search related to the shooting, then could have legally seized the stereo, since no additional search was required.

There is no distinction between search and seizure w.r.t. 4th Amendment protection ("The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated"). Police could not confiscate the stereo without probable cause, nor could they confiscate cash, or any other thing, again, unless they had probable cause. And they could not search for evidence that would give them probable cause to take stuff.

As SCOTUS said, regarding searches versus seizures,

We have not elsewhere drawn a categorical distinction between the two insofar as concerns the degree of justification needed to establish the reasonableness of police action, and we see no reason for a distinction in the particular circumstances before us here.

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  • That's not the point. Say the police, when seeing the expensive stereo, decides to seize the stereo instead. Would it be legal? Yes I am aware of the 4th amendment. That is the same argument that people who are against civil forfeiture use. But 4th amendment fails to apply there, and yet applies to search. – user4951 Mar 6 '18 at 11:43
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    @J.Chang I very much suspect that the cops did seize the stereo, and likely returned it to its owner. The fact that the search was deemed to violate the 4th amendment means only that the fruits of that search could not be used as evidence to convict Hicks of a crime. It doesn't mean that he gets to keep the stereo. – phoog Mar 6 '18 at 16:30
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    @J.Chang: There are multiple "searches" here, which chain off one another, and whose reasonableness is dependent on the searches above them in the chain. The first "search" was entering the apartment, which was justified by the bullet that was fired in the floor, and covered entering the apartment to determine that there was no further threat to anyone in or near the apartment. The second "search" was a "plain view" search, of anything plainly visible to the officers while conducting the first search. This was when the expensive stereo was discovered. (cont.) – sharur Mar 6 '18 at 16:48
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    @J.Chang:The officer then conducted an illegal third search, by turning the stereo to view the serial number. What should have happened is that the officer get a warrant for the stereo and its serial number, and then return to search it. Since the officer did not, the results of the third search were suppressed. – sharur Mar 6 '18 at 16:48
  • So the cops have a right to seize the stereo but cannot use the result of the seizing and search to prosecute the burglars in court of law. – user4951 Mar 8 '18 at 8:25

The premise of your question as it now stands is incorrect. The police did seize the stereo. The fourth sentence in the opinion reads:

Upon learning that the turntable had been taken in an armed robbery, he seized it immediately.

The courts did not order that the stereo be returned to Hicks nor to anyone else in the apartment, they simply found that the stereo could not be used as evidence against Hicks in prosecuting him for the robbery.

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  • I see. So the cops can should have called a judge and ask for warrant? – user4951 Jun 7 '18 at 9:54
  • @J.Chang if they had done so, and the judge had issued the warrant, then the seizure probably would have been lawful and the evidence admissible in prosecuting Hicks for the robbery. But perhaps there are other ways in which they could have examined the stereo lawfully without obtaining a warrant. For example, if by interrogating an occupant of the apartment they elicited a statement that the turntable had been stolen, the situation might have been different. But I'm no expert in these matters. – phoog Jun 7 '18 at 14:47

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