State v. Schultz: Warrantless Search of Home

Excellent opinion.

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1373311.html

Officers received a 911 call about a couple was yelling inside their apartment.  Officers drove to the scene.  The woman consented to the officer’s request to enter the apartment.  Officers found a marijuana pipe.  Upon their find, they also conducted a more intrusive – and warrantless – search of the apartment.  Methamphetamine was found.

The WA Supremes reasoned the test for an emergency aid exception (also called Exigent Circumstances) entry has been expanded to include the following elements: (1) The police officer subjectively believed that someone likely needed assistance for health or safety concerns; (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was need for assistance; (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place being searched; (4) there is an imminent threat of substantial injury to persons or property; (5) state agents must believe a specific person or persons or property are in need of immediate help for health or safety reasons; and (6) the claimed emergency is not a mere pretext for an evidentiary search.

They further reasoned that here, the mere acquiescence to an officer’s entry is not consent to search.  It is also not an exception to our state’s constitutional protection of the privacy of the home. Finally, while the likelihood of domestic violence may be considered by courts when evaluating whether the requirements of the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement have been satisfied, the warrantless entry in this case was unnecessary.  Officers merely heard raised voices from outside the home.  The agitated and flustered woman who answered the door indicated that no one else was present in the home.  No emergency existed.

My opinion?  Good decision.  Granting a police officer’s request to enter the home is not, by itself, consent to search the home.  Period.