Supreme Court Upholds Emergency Exception to Warrant Requirement

On December 7th the United States Supreme Court upheld the emergency exception to the warrant requirement in Michigan v. Jeremy Fisher . To truly appreciate the case you have to read the facts the officers dealt with at the time.

“Upon their arrival, the officers found a household in considerable chaos: a pickup truck in the driveway with its front smashed, damaged fenceposts along the side of the property, and three broken house windows, the glass still on the ground outside. The officers also noticed blood on the hood of the pickup and on clothes inside of it, as well as on one of the doors to the house. (It is disputed whether they noticed this immediately upon reaching the house, but undisputed that they noticed it before the allegedly unconstitutional entry.) Through a window, the officers could see respondent, Jeremy Fisher, inside the house, screaming and throwing things. The back door was locked, and a couch had been placed to block the front door.

The officers knocked, but Fisher refused to answer. They saw that Fisher had a cut on his hand, and they asked him whether he needed medical attention. Fisher ignored these questions and demanded, with accompanying profanity, that the officers go to get a search warrant. Officer Goolsby then pushed the front door partway open and ventured into the house. Through the window of the open door he saw Fisher pointing a long gun at him.Officer Goolsby withdrew. Fisher was charged under Michigan law with assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The trial court concluded that Officer Goolsby violated the Fourth Amendment when he entered Fisher’s house, and granted Fisher’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result—that is, Officer Goolsby’s statement that Fisher pointed a rifle at him.”

Commentary

The fact that a district court Judge found, in this set of circumstances, that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment just astounds me. The scarier part is that the state appeals court affirmed the judgement! Thankfully, the United States Supreme Court had this to say in its decision to overturn:

“It was error for the Michigan Court of Appeals to replace that objective inquiry into appearances with its hindsight determination that there was in fact no emergency. It does not meet the needs of law enforcement or the demands of public safety to require officers to walk away from a situation like the one they encountered here. Only when an apparent threat has become an actual harm can officers rule out innocuous explanations for ominous circumstances. But “[t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties.” Brigham City, supra, at 406. It sufficed to invoke the emergency aid exception that it was reasonable to believe that Fisher had hurt himself (albeit non fatally) and needed treatment that in his rage he was unable to provide, or that Fisher was about to hurt, or had already hurt, someone else. The Michigan Court of Appeals required more than what the Fourth Amendment demands.”

In a significant sign of things to come it should be noted that Justice Sotomayor dissented with Justice Stevens siding with the Michigan Appeals court.

Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

About Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

Ronald A. Sellon is a licensed Attorney in the state of Massachusetts and U.S. District Court, Massachusetts as well as a Sergeant with a Municipal Police Department and U.S. military Veteran. Additionally, he has taught Criminal Procedure at the Massachusetts State Police Academy in New Braintree and has written a text on Criminal Procedure for police field training officer programs. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, was a 2008 recipient of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass C.O.P.) Presidents award and holds a Bachelors Degree in Law Enforcement, a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Juris Doctor Law Degree. Questions related to content material may be directed to RSellon@PoliceLegalPromotions.com
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