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The recent mass shooting at a school in Connecticut weighs heavy on our minds, but when listening to the coverage I noticed something that I could never understand.

When the state is prosecuting a suspect, they need to collect evidence to build a case. It is well known that authorities cannot search your private property without a search warrant granted by a judge, and often times law enforcement will do this to search for evidence for the case.

In this case the suspect was killed on the scene. Obviously they can't prosecute a dead man, so why do they still obtain search warrants? I understand that we all demand to know what happened and we are all deeply troubled by what has happened, but is this justification enough or is it an overstep of the authority granted them by the people?

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  • Could you clarify if you're referring as to why they get warrants to search property of the deceased or whether they still investigate (inc. searching property) after the death of the perpetrator even though they cannot prosecute the person? – UKB Dec 16 '12 at 20:23
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    This is rather a legal than a political question, isn't it? – gerrit Dec 18 '12 at 17:34
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    Agreed. I don't see how this is in any way related to politics. – DJClayworth Dec 20 '12 at 17:12
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Property does not tie directly to a particular person, nor is that mapping at all uniform for all members of society. Police still need to get a search warrant to investigate the crime for several reasons, including:

  • Police could uncover evidence of other crimes, perhaps committed by other individuals living or associated with the deceased in some way. That evidence would be inadmissible against the still living offenders without a proper search warrant.
  • Criminals, especially in violent crimes like this one typically are associated with their victims in some way. For example, the suspect is believed to have killed his mother in this case. An unwarranted search in this case could unnecessarily violate the rights of several of the victims as well.
  • The deceased is still only a suspect. Again, in this very case the press originally identified the wrong person as the suspect. It could yet turn out (however unlikely that may be) that the suspect was just another victim and without following the proper procedures, the real murderer may never come to justice.

It is often times frustrating to see these types of activities eat up valuable time in the pursuit of a criminal, but given the closeness with which we interact with other people and the seriousness with which we protect and value our privacy, it is important that our justice system operate blindly, even boringly, in its even handed pursuit of the truth.

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  • Had missed a good answer. Glad I get to put you over the top! – Affable Geek Jan 31 '13 at 15:51
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Laws and contracts tend to only be binding on the living.

But, if I live with a serial killer, a search and seizure would violate my rights as a living person (unless I gave consent, which I would probably do). Next-of-kin stuff comes into play here. If I'm single and live alone and I kill a bunch of people and myself, then as a deceased person my estate goes into the hands of my family or whoever I willed. Someone living is involved now, so search warrants are still necessary.

IANAL. This site had some insight into the matter that was a jumping off point for my answer.

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From a legal point of view, search warrants are issued on probable belief that evidence of a crime exists in a particular place. That is all. There is nothing to say that the crime to be by a living person, or has anything to do with the owner of the property. E.g. if someone buries stolen gold on your land the police can get a warrant to search your land and seize the gold, even if they are perfectly aware that you had nothing to do with it.