Question for attorneys re search warrants

I recently watched one of those true crime television shows where a wife killed her husband, buried him in the backyard, poured a concrete slab to cover the grave, and collected the insurance money. Police never had evidence giving probable cause required for a search warrant so the case went cold.

Twenty years later, the police finally have basis for a search warrant of the woman’s property however the wife sold it to a 3rd party with no connection to the crime. The search warrant was granted, the police tore up the backyard, and the body was found. The wife ends up in prison.

My understanding of search warrants is that they have a defined scope. They aren’t supposed to be “fishing trips”. With this in mind I was curious about some edge case where, in this example, the new homeowner also killed her spouse and buried his remains near the first victim. If that body is discovered while executing the unrelated search warrant, could anything found be used as evidence to prosecute the second woman?

To be clear… I’m not asking for legal advice I’m just curious.

UK or US law? You used the term Attorney…

If UK, then yes other evidence lawfully obtained is potentially admissible.
Sec 8 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is todays reading.

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In the UK the warrant is approved (by a Magistrate or Judge) according to quite strict rules.

Briefly the applicant must demonstrate reasonable grounds to believe an indictable offence has been committed and also that significant evidence can be obtained by the search, where other methods of access are not possible (ie permission given by an occupier).

So in the situation you describe I would suggest the Police had assembled enough evidence to convince the Magistrate etc that this search had a reasonable prospect of success digging at this site

There are quite a lot of other wrinkles, after all a search warrant is potentially a significant infringement of personal liberty. Warrants must be pretty specific ie what premises or objects, who will be involved, how many visits etc.

Quite a few are refused if the Police or other applicant fail to make a reasonable case ie the evidence is too vague or of low quality.


… or read Section 8 as suggested but don’t expect to finish it before the weekend!

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With regard to finding ‘unexpected’ evidence I don’t see that as a problem as long as it was not obtained ‘unlawfully’ by the Police ie if they went outside the conditions of a search warrant it might be challenged. Coming upon it genuinely ‘accidentally’ seems OK to me.

Laying a new patio soon?



I was thinking about US law but it’s probably similar. Spent some time reading search warrants today and they’re all extremely specific. “Search locations a,b,c seize x,y,z because the State has a list of reasons to believe it’s material to a specific set of crimes”

Seems a bit invasive for the State to search a person’s property for evidence of 3rd party’s crimes. At the very least I’d think the police would need to find the things detailed in the search warrant before anything else is considered. Obviously finding a body is an extreme. Maybe a slightly more “realistic” scenario is: warrant to search person x’s garage because person y hid a murder weapon in an old coffee can 20 years ago.” Police search the garage and find two old coffee cans one containing a steak knife and person y’s dna while the other contains illicit drugs and a credit card receipt signed last year by person x. In the UK this could form the basis for prosecution of drug offense? Would that change if the can with the knife wasn’t also found?

Having spent a couple of years studying civil law I’m fairly certain the answer is something like “it depends”.

About that new patio… in the US it is my understanding that the state can damage the property executing a search warrant without compensation to the owner. While a little property damage to the home of a murderer doesn’t elicit much sympathy it is different when the home is owned by an uninvolved 3rd party. Possibly in this scenario the government pays to repair the damage but still… that poor person now owns the local “murder house” and it’s just lost half its market value.

Think what the public expectation is in your scenario.
The expectation would be that the authorities deal with the drug offences discovered during the course of the weapon search. The law reflects this expectation. It would be farcical that the police would have to leave and then apply for a second warrant to deal with the can of drugs?
They are lawfully on the premises under the weapon warrant. They can seize (but not search for) the drugs under another section of law and deal with the occupant accordingly.
Sec 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is todays read.

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In the case of the drugs, if the police can’t search for them wouldn’t testing the substance of the can constitute an illegal search? It might be cocaine or possibly something completely legal.

The public interest is solving a murder case not making sure every crime is punished. Personally I place slightly higher value on privacy vs public safety so that’s probably why I’d be willing for the drugs to be inadmissible.

Years ago I unknowingly committed a federal crime when I purchased/imported several bottles of snake wine on eBay. My reasonable assumption was that eBay would not allow the sale of prohibited items using its service. If not for the fact the second batch I purchased had been seized by US Customs/Postal Inspector I would never have known that I had trafficked an endangered species. Obviously this was pretty minor but it was eye opening. Ignorance of the law isn’t a valid defense. That seems reasonable when laws are based on morality. Now that many laws are based primarily on ethics it’s less clear that average people should know that certain activities are unlawful.

In another instance the CPD knocked on my door one morning and felt they had probable cause to enter my property based on a 911 call placed by my wife, from our phone requesting police to respond because I was physically assaulting her. This was all very shocking and confusing since literally none of those things were true. Unfortunately for me I cut myself shaving and had a couple of drops of blood on my undershirt. My wife was equally confused and we’re both scratching our heads trying to understand what was going on. In the end I realized the 911 system had the incorrect address for the caller’s telephone number. While primarily concerned that the woman who needed help hadn’t received it, the slight damage to my reputation bothered me. Later I started thinking about how a corrupt element in the CPD might engineer something like this to gain entry to property to harass individuals. While a defense attorney would hopefully get evidence suppressed, the complexity would make it expensive. If required to prove it was intentional then the defendant is screwed.

In the UK, Police do not have the luxury, rightly so, of ignoring law breaking, however trivial. That is for the prosecuting bodies to decide, in the UK this would be the CPS.
Re your comment about going for the greater crime in your scenario , we have presence of an illicit substance that could cause harm if found by another now…and a weapon used in homicide 20 years ago.
Best ask the parents and families of kids who have died at the hands of drug dealers I think.


Examples make bad precedent, so the one you suggest might seem ‘harsh’ but extend the principle to a more likely scenario.

The Police have a warrant to search premises they believe are being used to supply Class A drugs. In the course of their lawful search they find stolen goods and an illegal weapon, but no drugs. Would you expect the law to insist they are ignored because the initial search warrant did not set out specifically to uncover them? Would you accept that the occupier does not have a right to privacy ie concealment?

If you chose to break the law you run the risk of discovery. Breaking the law ‘in private’ is still breaking the law. Whether a prosecution is in the public interest is the job of the CPS here, and how severe the punishment delivered is up to the Judiciary. The Police don’t make those choices.


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‘Asking for a friend,’ as they say.


There is an interesting case currently in the US, where a woman went missing a few years ago and her former partner is the prime suspect.

Now this guy has a construction company i believe, and he was building a number of houses in the neighborhood at the time the woman went missing , so it is suspected she may have been buried at one of those premises, possibly underneath a driveway, or behind a garage wall.

There was talk about the FBI getting search warrants for all the houses that this guy worked on at the time, to do digging or break down walls looking for the missing woman.

This is a kind of scenario that is sort of interesting i guess in light of OP’s initial question. :slight_smile:

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Glad and relieved to say that such warrants would not be granted in the UK on that suspicion alone.
Our legislation requires Police to show that they reasonably believe the relevant material to be present at the location. Suspicion is insufficient.

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This particular case is quite strange, the suspect’s brother worked at the local police station i believe and was fired for interfering with the case. And the missing woman’s father was shot and killed a year after her disappearance, currently also still unsolved.

I think there were some reliable indications that she may have been buried at one of the sites, but i don’t know the details.

I don’t think this is correct, there is a DOJ website where you can submit a claim for reimbursement.

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It’s not an illicit substance until tested its only a substance that is suspicious when the can is opened. If the police aren’t allowed to search for illegal drugs then surely they can’t test it. I did discover a difference between UK and US law. In the UK illegally obtained evidence is admissible but not in the US.

I really don’t know the source of your research, but it is incorrect. Sec 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 lays down the rules regarding admissibility or otherwise of material gathered by Police. Illegally obtained material is never admissible in a court.

I will leave it there as you obviously are not accepting what I am saying.

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That’s actually an excellent example since FBI is concerned with federal crimes. In the US cultivating marijuana is a federal offense. However, many states have laws allowing anybody to grow marijuana for personal consumption. If the FBI executes a search warrant for your garage based on this murder, they walk in an find your grow operation in front of the wall they intend to tear down.

The Wikipedia page on “fruit of the poisonous tree” and it indicated UK law doesn’t recognize this concept. Then I found that paper where the author cited several cases where unlawfully collected evidence was known to be unlawfully collect at time of trial yet was admitted.

Perhaps my choice of the word " never " was a little strong. The paper cites “several” cases…out of the tens of thousands where unlawfully seized material has been excluded. It is very rare for it to be allowed. Trial judges go out of their way to avoid appeals, as they dislike the Appeal Courts deciding their rulings were incorrect.Its like a black mark, please forgive my phraseology, no offence intended.
You seem to be moving goalposts here, what’s the thrust of your query?

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