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
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.