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Bessho, David M. Federal Constitutional Search and Seizure Issues in Fire Scene Investigations. National Fire & Arson Report. Vol. 13, No. 3 (September 1995). p 7-8+.

Abstract: Federal law provides the lowest common denominator of search and seizure protection to which individual states must adhere. While individual state laws may afford greater protection to property owners, this article summarizes the minimum level of federal protection which applies in all the states.

In the cases of Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499 (1978) and Michigan v. Clifford, 464 U.S. 287 (1984), the court ruled that the conduct of fire scene investigators falls within the Fourth Amendmentís protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Generally, investigators need an authorized search warrant in order to make nonconsensual entry onto private property. The courts do allow, however, for fire officials to remain on private property for a reasonable amount of time after the fire has been extinguished, judging that fire officials are charged with both extinguishing fires and determining their cause. That which constitutes a ìreasonableî amount of time is determined by specific circumstances including the type of structure, size of fire and the individualís reasonable expectation of privacy.

The author provides a detailed review of both cases and the resulting judgements. A discussion of the court's analysis and subsequent decisions is also provided.

 
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