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Search of Abandoned Property: Fourth Amendment Considerations

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 63 Issue: 5 Dated: (May 1994) Pages: 27-32
J G Sauls
Date Published
6 pages
This article discusses the facts that police officers must obtain to demonstrate a person's surrender of fourth amendment privacy in premises, vehicles, and other items of personal property so that a warrantless search will be reasonable under the legal theory of abandonment.
Fourth amendment law regarding abandonment stipulates that when someone makes evident a surrender of privacy interest in a place or thing, police officers may search it without a warrant and with no additional factual justification. In determining whether such a surrender of privacy has occurred, courts use the totality of circumstances test. Premises are considered to be abandoned when the occupant no longer has a reasonable expectation that the interior will remain undisturbed by others. A person's departure from a residence in an apparent effort to avoid apprehension by the police constitutes strong evidence of that person's intention to leave the residence and not return. Other factors indicating abandonment involve ending one's contractual right to remain in the premises, failing to secure the premises, or removing most items of value. In the case of vehicles, courts consider whether a person no longer reasonably expects that the vehicle and its contents will remain undisturbed by others. Police officers should take into account the condition of an unattended vehicle and whether a person denies vehicle ownership. Factors that courts consider in determining whether personal property items have been abandoned are examined. 39 endnotes