THE LAW IS A ASS #319: INSPECTOR? I BARELY KNOW HER
Every Monday I read Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz. You’ll notice I didn’t say read with pleasure. Usually I don’t.
I’m a big fan of whodunits with their intricate plots and subtle clues and challenging mind games. Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, a weekly comic strip syndicated by the Universal Press Syndicate and available on UPS’s GoComics.com, is a whodunit; but one without the intricacies, subtleties, and, usually, the challenge. Each week The Inspector’s one-page comic story presents us with a mystery and the clues necessary to solve it. Then the actual solution is printed upside down on the bottom of the page.
The problem is that the mysteries are frequently inane and the solutions preposterous. Like the recent one about a burglary at an art collector’s house. The collector said his dim-witted cleaning lady, who he keeps because she has a cleaning compulsion, saw the burglar. She did but couldn’t identify him. The Inspector saw the broken glass in the door the burglar used to enter the house and noted there was no broken glass on the floor. He deduced the cleaning lady must have broken the window herself to pretend there was a theft, then gave into her compulsive cleaning and cleaned up the broken glass. Somehow that proved that she was the thief and there was no burglar.
Problem is, if the cleaning lady’s compulsion was so strong that she’d clean up glass she broke herself to fake a burglary, she’d have had the same compulsion to clean up the broken glass if it had really been broken by a burglar. So the absence of broken glass only proved that the cleaning lady compulsively cleaned it up, not who broke it.
That’s an example of when the strip’s solution is stupid. Sometimes the solution isn’t stupid, just annoying. Like the May 26th installment.
Agatha “The Cat Lady” Henderson was strangled in her living room, right in front of seven of her cats. The next day, Inspector Danger talked to a neighbor who knew that one of Agatha’s three heirs visited her the day before, but not which one. The Inspector interviewed the three heirs; a businessman who said he hadn’t seen his aunt in three months, a sexy blond who said she dropped by her aunt’s house last fall, and a cigar-smoking pool shark who thought his aunt had died years ago. Inspector Danger said that one of them was lying and told his “dim-witted” assistant Alfie, he had a suggestion to determine which one was the liar.
I’ve got to confess, I didn’t see the solution. I had no idea what The Inspector saw that I missed. I read and re-read the strip several times trying to see what I overlooked but couldn’t come up with anything. So I read the solution which said, in its entirety, “One suggestion: Check out the suspects’ clothes for cat hair. Suspect # 1 turned out to be the murderer.”
You can imagine my relief when I read this. Relief, because I wasn’t stupid and hadn’t missed anything. Rather, the solution was stupid and missed something. Something that will keep Inspector Danger from solving the crime.
Inspector Danger couldn’t search the suspects’ clothes for cat hair, because he didn’t have a warrant to search them or their clothes. Nor, based on the level of detective work demonstrated by the good inspector, could he obtain one.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution commands that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Boiled down to its essence – and leaving out all the unnecessary commas and superfluous capital letters – it means you can’t search a person or house unless you get a warrant based upon probable cause and which describes with particularity who or what you want to search and what you expect to find.
Notice that in our case the solution said to “Check out the suspects’ clothes [emphasis added].” That means Inspector Danger didn’t know which of the three heirs was the murderer. He wanted to search the clothes of all three to determine whether any of the three were covered with cat hairs, because the one with cat hairs would be the murderer. But to get a warrant you have to prove to a judge that you have probable cause to support the search.
Probable cause means that you can satisfy a judge that it’s more probable than not, that the individual you want to search will have what you’re looking for on his or her person. Inspector Danger didn’t know which of the suspects was guilty, that’s why he wanted to search all three to see whether one’s clothes were covered with cat hairs. That’s not probable cause, that’s a hunch. To get a warrant, The Inspector needed to know which one of the three suspects had the cat hairs. No judge would issue a general warrant allowing all three suspects to be searched in the hopes that one of them might have incriminating cat hairs on them.
But Bob, you say – or you might say were we in the same room – couldn’t the Inspector see the cat hairs on one of the three suspects? And if he could, wouldn’t that evidence be in plain view? So couldn’t he search that suspect without getting a warrant?
Yes, if the Inspector could see cat hairs on one of the three suspects, it would mean the key evidence was in plain view and under the Plain View Doctrine Inspector Danger would have been able to seize it without a warrant.
And no, because The Plain View Doctrine only works if the Inspector could see the cat hairs in plain view on one of the suspects’ clothes. That’s extremely doubtful in this case.
Remember, Inspector Danger didn’t become involved in the case until the morning after the murder. He didn’t interview the suspects until later that day. What are the odds that the killer strangled his or her aunt the night before then didn’t change clothes but wore the same clothes – clothes with clearly visible and incriminating cat hairs on them – the next day? I’d put them at even worse than the odds that the first Star Wars comic that Marvel publishes will star Jar Jar Binks.
We know, because the strip told us, that Suspect # 1 was the killer. The odds are Suspect # 1 isn’t wearing his cat-hair-covered clothes but that they’re back in his house; probably in a laundry hamper, if not the washing machine. And in order to search Suspect # 1’s house to find those hairy clothes, Inspector Danger would need a…
You all said, “a search warrant,” didn’t you? Please tell me you all said, “a search warrant.” I’d hate to think you’re not learning anything from our little get-togethers.
As for obtaining a search warrant to look for cat hair-covered clothes in the suspect’s house, the Inspector has the same problem; lack of probable cause. Inspector Danger doesn’t know which of the three suspects has a house full of cat hairy clothes and won’t be able to get a warrant to search the houses of all three suspects to find out which one’s clothes were covered with cat hair. Not until he can say, which particular suspect’s house he wants to search, because he has probable cause to believe that suspect’s clothes will be covered in cat hairs.
The strip refers to the Inspector’s assistant, Alfie, as being “dim-witted,” but if you ask me it’s the Inspector, himself, who’s posing the real danger. To good police work.