E-Newsletter Edition: September 12, 2007

Response Provided By: Brian S. Batterton

Always note that state law may be more restrictive on police power than the U.S. Constitution.

QUESTION:
My question applies to both field work and court appeals. I recently had a hit and run crash where the vehicle was located at a residence. Multiple attempts were made to contact the driver inside the residence without avail. My Sgt arrived and we assessed the damage to the vehicle which was extensive and made the determination that the driver was likely injured and could not answer the door. The Sgt and I made entry into the residence and located the driver passed out on the floor in the back room. The driver was arrested for hit and run and DUI. The defense stated that we entered the residence for a DUI arrest and the judge suppressed all evidence and the case was dismissed.

I believe that we made the right decision to enter to ensure the driver’s safety.

Is there a way to have a judge’s ruling against the State appealed?

_____

ANSWER:

First, it is important to note that warrantless entries into private premises are deemed per se unreasonable and may be tolerated only if they fall within one of the well-established and specifically defined exceptions to the warrant requirement. i  The emergency aid doctrine has been uniformly recognized as an exception to the warrant requirement. ii  This exception to the warrant requirement allows an officer, without a warrant to:

break down a door to enter a burning home to rescue occupants or extinguish a fire, to prevent a shooting or to bring emergency aid to an injured person. The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an exigency or emergency . . . A myriad of circumstances could fall within the terms ‘exigent circumstances’ . . . .; e.g., smoke coming out a window or under a door, the sound of gunfire in the house, threats from the inside to shoot through the door at police, reasonable grounds to believe an injured or seriously ill person is being held within. iii

This doctrine has been expressly accepted by the Alaska Supreme Court {This legal question posted from Officer in Alaska}. iv

The three requirements of the emergency aid exception are as follows:

  1. The police must have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property.
  2. The search must not be primarily motivated by intent to arrest and seize evidence.
  3. There must be some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place to be searched. v

Based only upon the facts provided in question, it is hard to make a determination whether or not the three factors above were met.

Now we will address the question of whether an adverse ruling, such as that stated in the question presented, can be appealed. In a motion to suppress, the trial court is the determiner of fact. Because the trial court hears the evidence, the Court of Appeals is required to accept factual findings specifically made by the trial court, unless clearly erroneous. vi  Further, in the absence of findings as to disputed factual issues, the Court of Appeals must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing part—in this case, the defendant. vii  In the question presented, if the trial judge found as fact that the police entered for the purpose of making an arrest, absent some evidence that this is clearly in error, the Court of Appeals must accept this ruling. Therefore, an appeal may not help, depending upon the factual determination of the trial judge and the facts that are in evidence. Additionally, the decision to appeal lies with the prosecuting attorney.

Citations:

  1. Gallmyer v. State, 640 P.2d 837, 841 (Alaska App. 1982)(citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576, 585, 88 S. Ct. 507 (1967); Erickson v. State, 507 P.2d 508, 514 (Alaska 1973))
  2. Id.
  3. Id. at footnote 6 (citing Wayne v. United States, 115 U.S. App. D.C. 234, 318 F.2d 205, 212 (D.C. Cir. 1963) cert. denied, 375 U.S. 860, 11 L. Ed. 2d 86, 84 S. Ct. 125 (1963))
  4. Gallmyer, 640, P.2d at 841
  5. Id. at 842
  6. Id. at 839
  7. Id.

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