Friday, April 27, 2007

Police may enter a home without a warrant when they have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant is seriously injured or immine

imminently threatened with such injury Brigham City v Stuart 126 S.Ct. 1943 (2006)

Responding to a 3 a.m. call about a loud party, police arrived at the house in question, heard shouting inside, proceeded down the driveway, and saw two juveniles drinking beer in the backyard. Entering the yard, they saw through a screen door and windows an altercation in the kitchen between four adults and a juvenile, who punched one of the adults, causing him to spit blood in a sink. An officer opened the screen door and announced the officers’ presence. Unnoticed amid the tumult, the officer entered the kitchen and again cried out, whereupon the altercation gradually subsided. The officers arrested respondents and charged them with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and related offenses.

The US Supreme Court held: The officers’ entry here was plainly reasonable under the circumstances. Given the tumult at the house when they arrived, it was obvious that knocking on the front door would have been futile. Moreover, in light of the fracas they observed in the kitchen, the officers had an objectively reasonable basis for believing both that the injured adult might need help and that the violence was just beginning. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment required them to wait until another blow rendered someone unconscious, semiconscious, or worse before entering. The manner of their entry was also reasonable, since nobody heard the first announcement of their presence, and it was only after the announcing officer stepped into the kitchen and announced himself again that the tumult subsided. That announcement was at least equivalent to a knock on the screen door and, under the circumstances, there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment’s knock-and-announce rule. Furthermore, once the announcement was made, the officers were free to enter; it would serve no purpose to make them stand dumbly at the door awaiting a response while those within brawled on, oblivious to their presence.