Could the prosecution’s case against Craig Wood be derailed by a warrantless search?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Afternoon:

I recently commented in response to a question raised by Betty-Kath regarding the warrantless entry into Craig Wood’s house by the police to search for Hailey Owens and their use of information, which they acquired during that search, to obtain a warrant to search his house for evidence that he had kidnapped and detained her in his home.

I said I did not believe the warrantless entry would affect the outcome of the case.

I reconsider my answer today and explain why the warrantless entry could jeopardize the prosecution’s case.

Detective Neal McAmis referred to the warrantless entry into Wood’s residence in his affidavit attached to the complaint:

Officers did a safety sweep of the residence to search for Owens. When the officers got to the basement steps, they could smell a strong odor of bleach. The odor continued as they entered the basement. The officers informed me the basement floor was wet. They also said they saw bottles of bleach in the basement.

On 02/19/14, at 0128 Detective Barb obtained a signed search warrant to search Craig’s residence. Several crime scene technicians responded to the scene. In the basement the crime scene technicians located two plastic storage totes. They were stacked one on top of the other. There were papers and documents in the top tote. In the bottom tote was what appeared to be the body of a small child. The body was concealed inside two trash bags. The crime scene technicians removed the trash bags and confirmed it was the body of Owens.

(emphasis supplied)

Detective Barb also applied for a second search warrant of the residence a little over 12 hours later during the afternoon of February 19th. In that affidavit, he described what he found during the search earlier that day, including firearms, video cameras, a computer, digital storage media, child pornography, cleaning fluids, journals and bedding, and he requested a search warrant authorizing him to search for and seize those items.

He did not mention the earlier warrantless search.

The issues the court may have to consider before this case goes to trial are whether the initial warrantless safety sweep of the residence was unlawful and, assuming for the sake of argument that it was, the second issue is whether any information obtained during that search was used to obtain a subsequent search warrant.

If so, that may invalidate the search and result in the suppression of the evidence seized. Without that evidence, the prosecution might not be able to convict Wood.

The general rules:

(1) A search of a residence without a warrant is unlawful unless an occupant voluntarily consents to the search or exigent circumstances exist that would make it impractical and unreasonable to obtain a search warrant, such as an entry in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect (see United States v. Santana, 427 US 38 (1976)), an entry to prevent the destruction of evidence (see Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849 (2011)) or an entry to prevent someone from suffering imminent injury or death.

(2) The police cannot use “fruit from the poisonous tree” (i.e., information obtained unlawfully) to establish probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe that a residence contains evidence of a crime.

Consent, hot pursuit and preventing the destruction of evidence are not applicable.

Thus, the question the court will have to resolve is whether the warrantless entry was reasonably necessary to prevent someone from suffering imminent injury or death.

The problem for the prosecution is that the police arrived at the residence before Wood arrived. They were waiting for him and when he arrived, they pulled into his driveway and parked behind him, preventing him from backing out. They took him into custody and transported him to the station house for interrogation.

The warrantless entry into his residence took place after Wood was removed from the scene.

With their only suspect in custody and no particular reason to believe that Hailey Owens was in the residence and in any immediate danger, if she was, I am not seeing any evidence that would justify a warrantless entry into his residence to prevent her from suffering imminent injury or death. Absent probable cause to believe that, the warrantless entry would be unlawful and any evidence seized as a result of it would not be admissible.

I also do not see them acting as though they believed she was endangered in the house. Moreover, the absence of any reference to the warrantless entry in the second affidavit for search warrant appears to have been a deliberate omission that the defense probably will interpret as deliberate.

The prosecution may be able to navigate its way through this potential disaster, if it can satisfy the court that (1) no information obtained during the warrantless entry was relied on to obtain a search warrant, or if they did rely on it, they relied on other independent evidence with which to establish probable cause, such that they would have discovered the evidence they seized even if the information obtained during the warrantless search were excised from the affidavit for the first search warrant that was issued at 0128 on February 19th.

How this potential issue is resolved may determine the outcome of this case.

32 Responses to Could the prosecution’s case against Craig Wood be derailed by a warrantless search?

  1. Aunt Bea says:

    Well, well, well. I know nothing about the law, but since Mr. Wood was willing to go downtown, why did they not just ask him if they could search his home/his car? What would his reaction to that have been? Kind of like those “erratic driving” stops they do. Mind if we search? Refuse. Call the dogs. The “good” ones. Get that probable cause.

    If this case falls apart ’cause some judge deems this illegal, all hell will break loose in the heartland. No doubt about that.

    Can we assume his home was unlocked?

    Lots of folks think he looks creepy, but I think he’s kind of hot
    AND he plays bluegrass!!!!

  2. colin black says:

    I send this out to any inmates whom might come within greeting distance of Mr Wood.

  3. colin black says:

    I don’t under stand American Law at all it seem as Winston Churchill
    once referd to Russia .
    A riddle wrapped inside an enigma an sealed with ubsurdities .

    Cant remember the name of the case but watched a true crime documentary .

    This guy became furious a female co worker got a promotion over him.
    So he I I r c dissabled her car to get her into his vechicle at there place of employment restrained her drove of and murdered her.

    An left her body in a field an then returned home to his wife..
    For some reason another having left no forensics at scene of his crime .He desided to take his victims house an car keys …trophy?…

    Obviously he though he had commited a perfect crime .
    Some how or another he became a person of interest an a search warrant was obtained for his home .
    This is months after the crime b. t. w…

    Police search warrant was I I r c for specific items
    Carpeting from hall way an stairs ,Any diarys note books papers ect,

    Whilst the warrant an search was being served a Detective went down to the basement were he looked through drawer on a tool bench an discovered the Victims Keys.

    Although he didn’t know that at the time .He seized them to check as he was aware the victims keys were the only thing missing from her person .

    The carpeting ect was a bust suspected blood stain non conclusive at the time as d n a tech was limited .

    Key were ap erfect match though to her doors an car an he was arrested.

    Only to be released a couple of weeks later as the keys were not on the warrant an seized Illegaly?

    He was set free an it took several YEARS before he finaly faced justice.

    He seized his victim illeagally he kidnapped her illeagaly he killed her illeagaly.

    An yet because an item relating directly to his involvement in the crime was omitted from a piece of paper .
    He gets a free pass.

    Ive seen other absurdities in America like LE Standing ouside a home with a murder victim In plain view to them.
    Yet are unable to enter the premiceses without a warrant??

  4. Dave says:

    This of course assumes that Wood doesn’t “hang himself in his cell”.

    • Malisha says:

      Good point.
      Seems to me a lot of trials have been avoided that way.
      (Perhaps…oh I better not say it … bad karma to say it … uh)
      Perhaps that shoulda happend to … no, nevermind.

  5. Malisha says:

    Tough cases DO make bad law. An analogous example of this in the executive (rather than judicial) branch would be the way 9/11 “made” the “Patriot Act.” If Wood were to walk because some cop forgot the proper mumbo jumbo, after doing the obviously perfect thing that was absolutely and unquestionably required by the situation at hand, this could make bad law that gave such unbridled power to various unscrupulous agencies and persons that none of our freedoms could survive. HOWEVER, if we have a modicum of good sense (oh please oh please oh please oh please oh pleeeeeeeeeeeeez!) we can get around that. We can realize that witnesses saw the following: Craig Wood kidnapped Hailey Owens; Craig Wood assaulted Hailey Owens; Craig Wood committed aggravated child abuse against Hailey Owens; Craig Wood endangered Hailey Owens; Craig Wood committed reckless driving with a child in the car who was not properly restrained according to law; etc. etc. etc.

    Then once he’s in prison for a few decades, when the statute of limitations for murder has not yet run, there could be some discussions. It would leave the Fourth Amendment in pristine condition.

  6. It seems to me that an initial “Crime Scene” was established at the site of the abduction thus the warrantless search would be legal as the crime scene now would logically follow as the truck as a possible “crime scene” (assault/murder) and/or then the know home of the suspect as “crime scene” of (assault/murder/concealment).

  7. Sybrina Fulton ‏@SybrinaFulton 3m
    Embedded image permalink

  8. Federal judge rips death penalty states for secretive execution methods
    Published time: February 27, 2014 03:24 Get short URL

  9. Two sides to a story says:

    Crane, there’s a post in moderation above – from Twitter, with multiple links.

  10. Two sides to a story says:

    Lisa Bloom is a civil rights lawyer and she has a new book about the TM case called “Suspicion Nation.” She was interviewed on CNN this afternoon.

  11. Two sides to a story says:

    Hoodies up! What an iconic case TM brought to light. May his name never be forgotten!

  12. Khaled Bey ‏@KhaledBeydoun 3m
    #Trayvon is more than a rallying cry or an emblem of racism.

    He was a young boy. Who should still be alive today.

  13. 3ChicsPolitico ‏@3ChicsPolitico 3m
    Trayvon Martin/Jordan Davis Rally–at Harlem State Office Building. Hoodies Up!Targets Up!

  14. I heard about Trayvon through my elderly mother, Letty Owings. She is 89 now and cannot see hardly, but she send me articles. So anyway, in the envelope was a clipping of the story, and I remember thinking, how on earth could something like this happen?

    Today, I still wonder the same thing.

    There’s actually not a day that goes by, when I don’t think of Trayvon Martin.

    May he rest in peace.

  15. Retweeted by I’m just sayin’
    Michael Skolnik ‏@MichaelSkolnik 11h
    Two years ago, today, Trayvon Martin was killed. He is gone, but will NEVER be forgotten #HoodiesUp #OurWorkIsNotDone

  16. There’s an old expression: Tough cases make bad law.

    Ultimately, I think the prosecution will win this argument because the crime is so incomprehensible and atrocious that a dismissal is unacceptable.

  17. lady2soothe says:


    Just want to acknowledge Trayvon on the 2nd Anniversary of his murder. Blessing to the Fulton/Martin Family.

  18. racerrodig says:

    It seems almost as if they should have gone into his house before he arrived because they could argue safety and imminent death.

    This is just like the scene in “Dirty Harry” where a retired Judge / Law Professor tells Harry the rifle cannot be used as evidence because he had no warrant and probable cause and the little girl who was kidnapped was already dead, so none of it would matter anyway.

  19. bettykath says:

    Those are clearly arguments for the defense to make.


    I would argue that a kidnapped child is in eminent danger at all times even if her abductor is not present, therefore, exigent circumstance.

    • Malisha says:

      I would argue exactly the same, BK. Furthermore, the following exigent circumstances existed:

      1- Child seen taken by someone fitting his description and THROWN into a vehicle, and thus could be anywhere, and could be unconscious;

      2. Car was his father’s and was being driven by him so info. leading to discovery of a missing child depended upon figuring out as much about him as possible quickly;

      3. His stepping out of the getaway car (identified) with duct tape is itself evidence of something exigent in that it is quite possible duct tape would be used to keep a victim quiet when and if she awoke from unconsciousness.

      Way way too much “exigent” circumstance to get rid of the results of a search that actually turned up a dead body!

  20. JJ says:

    If Wood goes free, at least the eyes and ears of the community + cops will be on his butt. Are you saying Craig Wood may go completely free? Can’t the police investigate the crime from the beginning. The victim is dead, so there is no rush into the residence to save her.
    I would think they could get a legal warrant based on the license plate # from the scene of the kidnapping + talk with father that his son had the truck could lead to a legal warrant.

  21. shyloh says:

    Good Lord this is almost too much for me to bear.

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