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Probable Cause and Warrant Requirements

Posted on in Criminal Defense

arrest warrant, illegal search, Wisconsin criminal defense attorneyLaw enforcement officers are often allowed a surprising amount of leeway with the truth during the course of an investigation, but a new case involving the FBI in Las Vegas may greatly expand that power, creating serious privacy concerns in the process. In the case, FBI agents cut off the internet connection into a person's home, and then posed as repairmen coming to fix it. The entire purpose of the exercise was to circumvent the need to get a warrant before searching the home because the agents did not think they had enough evidence to get one.

The Case

The case involves a gambler who was in Las Vegas after being caught in Macau running an illegal sports betting operation. The FBI was concerned that he was doing the same thing in Las Vegas, but they had no other evidence of that beyond the incident in Macau. They wanted to search the hotel villa the man was staying in for more evidence, but they did not think they had enough for a warrant.

FBI agents cut the internet connection into the home. When the man staying in the villa called for a repair, they entered the location wearing hidden cameras. They then used the evidence from the cameras to obtain warrants. Eventually, it came to light that the evidence that was obtained through this complicated ruse, and the defense attorneys moved to prevent the use of any of the evidence based on the Fourth Amendment.

Fourth Amendment Concerns

The Fourth Amendment protects people from warrantless searches by the police. In order to get a warrant, the police need to go before a judge and present evidence that gives them “probable cause” to believe that the search would turn up evidence of a crime. This case raises serious concerns about that right because if law enforcement officers are allowed to lie their way into a home to collect evidence, it would make the protection of warrants largely meaningless. Beyond that, it would force people to be even more vigilant before allowing deliveries or repair technicians into their home.

There is also an argument being put forward in the case by the federal prosecutors that is especially problematic. The prosecution argues that this was acceptable because the FBI had “ample reason” to suspect a crime. If this argument were to become law, it would remove the protection of probable cause, since having ample reason to suspect a crime apparently still was not enough for the FBI to simply go get a warrant.

Criminal charges are a serious concern, but there are many rights and defenses available to protect people. If you would like to learn more about these options, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today.
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