Most people are aware that the Fourth Amendment protects them from unreasonable search and seizures. However, the courts sometimes rule on evidence that isn't covered under this amendment. Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a discarded cigarette butt could be used as evidence in the rape and murder trial of a former school board member.
The defense attorney says that he disagrees with the ruling and plans to ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the lower court's ruling. "The key issue is privacy," the defense attorney stated. "All that [the defendant] was asking them to do was have a court agree that there was enough probable cause that he committed a crime to ask for his DNA."
The panel of three judges in the appeals court said that the cigarette butt was collected by a police officer in Raleigh, North Carolina, was constitutional. A jury in Wake County convicted the man in June 2012.
This is certainly not the first time that this issue has come up. The cigarette butt was found in a parking lot of an apartment building. According to the N.C. attorney general, the ruling will allow police officers to combine high-tech science and "old-fashioned detective work."
When the rape and murder occurred, the defendant lived with his wife in an apartment building that was just a short distance from where the crimes happened. The 62-year-old woman was recovering from cosmetic surgery when the defendant broke into her house, raped and killed her.
The defendant had several arrests for burglary charges and a conviction for breaking-and-entering. The officer that recovered the cigarette butt had been part of a group of officers that were watching the defendant. The officer saw the man discard the cigarette butt from his vehicle. He was arrested after DNA evidence proved that the DNA from the rape kit and the cigarette butt was a match.
The court ruled that the cigarette butt was admissible because the defendant had no expectation of privacy in the parking lot.
Evidence such as this can and should be challenged in court. An experienced criminal defense attorney will work diligently to present a strong case on your behalf. Appeals are always a possibility when it comes to a guilty verdict.
Source: The News and Observer, "NC Court of Appeals upholds use of cigarette butt evidence in conviction for Kathy Taft murder" Anne Blythe, Jan. 06, 2015