Saturday, March 29, 2008
A man in Schaumburg, Illinois won a key legal victory after a Cook County judge found that the prosecution cannot use small explosive devices found at a Schaumburg home in which he rented a room in his trial for unlawful possession of explosives and unlawful use of a weapon. Back in 2006, Dominic Bender was arrested after authorities found explosives at, inter alia, the Schaumburg home. The problem was that those authorities went to the home not based upon any suspicion that Bender had explosive devices, but because he allegedly made harassing calls to his estranged wife. They thus weren't equipped with a search warrant for explosive devices; instead, they were seeking to serve an order of protection and an arrest warrant charging him with making harassing calls to his wife.
Upon arrival, the authorities looked for Bender throughout the house, including in a bedroom closet. Eventually, however, they looked through a duffel bag in which they discovered about 200 M-80 type fireworks devices. Circuit Judge John Scotillo found that this search of the duffel bag violated Bender's Constitutional rights and that the explosive devices were inadmissible. Judge Scotillo found that while it was reasonable for the authorities to seek to enforce the arrest warrant by looking in the closet because a person could hide there, the authorities exceeded their authority by ostensibly looking for Bender in the duffel bag.
This ruling makes sense based upon well established Supreme Court precedent. As the Supreme Court found in Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 226 (1981), an "arrest warrant also limits the scope of the search, specifying what the police may search for- i. e., the subject of the arrest warrant. No general search is permitted, but only a search of those areas in which the object of the search might hide." Obviously, it would be physically impossible for most men to fit in most duffel bags, so there was no justification for the authroities to search inside the bag for Bender.