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Exigent Circumstances?


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  • Exigent Circumstances?

    Hi I’m a screenwriter and I have a scenario where I’m unsure what the police procedure would/should be moving forward.

    A witness near a bank hears gunshots. She turns and sees one man physically assaulting another man. She moves to safety and calls 911.

    When the police arrive they find the recently fired gun along with articles of clothing, car keys, a lot of cash, and the wallet and ID of a man we’ll call GEORGE. No blood. No sign of either man. The witness states that the second unnamed man was the aggressor and had the advantage on George.

    When the police(or would detectives get involved at this point?) check the surveillance of the nearby bank it appears as though George has tampered with an ATM stealing money. The second man attacks him shortly after. George pulls the gun to defend himself but this second person has the jump on him and clearly manages to injure him before they move out of view of the camera.

    Using George’s keys the police are then able to canvas the area and find what they believe is George’s car. Sitting in the passenger seat is a briefcase.

    My main question is whether, since they have the keys, can the police open the car and the briefcase right then and there because of exigent circumstances? Is the thought process that George was attacked, his life may be in jeopardy, and the contents of the briefcase could help locate him? Or...

    Because there’s evidence that George has committed a crime would the police need to impound the car and get a warrant to search the briefcase?

    the contents of the briefcase move the plot forward so I’m trying to figure the sequence of events that need to happen to get there.

    thanks guys!

  • #2
    There is a really good sub forum called 'Writers Block'. I think you'd get more answers there.


    • #3
      The Writer's Block forum would be the better option for answers. But since I'm here anyways...

      If there's evidence a crime was committed then they'd likely get a search warrant in this instance. The briefcase is in a locked car which they have the keys to. There's no exigency that they have to grab it "right now" unless specific, articulable facts justify the immediate warrantless entry. In this case, it sounds like a better idea to sit on the car until a warrant is issued or tow it to a secure location then get a warrant.

      If the briefcase was found on the ground next to the car, and no one was around it, then you could make the case it's abandoned property on a public street/sidewalk. In this case, no warrant is required to search abandoned property. With no owner to establish a right to privacy, no expectation of privacy exists.


      • #4
        As the others have already said, this belongs in The Writer's Block.

        Your story doesn't communicate any exigent circumstances. The briefcase isn't going anywhere- it's just sitting on the seat.

        When dealing with Fourth Amendment issues, it is usually best to utilize the least intrusive legally justifiable method.


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