This article seeks to set out the exceptions to the requirement to obtain a warrant.

Warrantless Searches Based on Exigent Circumstances

Exigent circumstances exist when there is need to protect an officer or the public, or to keep a potential suspect from destroying evidence. In these circumstances, a search may be conducted without a warrant.

State v. Walker

62 A.3d 897 (N.J. 2013).

Walker was convicted with possession and the intent to distribute dangerous controlled substances.

Question

Should the evidence have been suppressed? In other words, (1) was there probable cause, and (2) were there exigent circumstances? If no, the evidence should have been suppressed.

Rule

Exigent circumstances exist when “the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable.”

Holding

Here, there was probable cause and exigent circumstances. Affirmed.

Facts

The facts of this case are detailed orientated and very important.

First, the officers received a tip from a reliable informant that the defendant was selling several drugs within his apartment.

Second, the officers went to the apartment to corroborate the evidence.

Third, the officers knocked on the door, and the defendant answered.

Fourth, the defendant was smoking illegal drugs as he answered the door. When he realized who he was talking to, he threw the drugs inside the home, attempted to retreat, and close the door behind him.

At this point, the officers entered the home and arrested the defendant in the living room. From the plain view of the living room, other drugs were discovered.

Analysis

The first part of the analysis is to determine whether there was probable cause. Although the tipster had provided reliable information in the past, the tip alone was insufficient to establish probable cause. Instead, probable cause became apparent when the defendant opened the door smoking the drugs. At this point, the officers knew that the defendant was committing a crime.

Next, the court needs to determine whether there were exigent circumstances that were not police created. The court spends a large amount of time differentiating this case from others. In the other cases, exigent circumstances were not created when the police only smelled the drugs, did not see the drugs, where the defendant did not open the door, or when there was no circumstance to show the presence of a weapon or attempt to destroy evidence.

Here, the police intrusion was limited only to detain the defendant and secure the illegal drugs. Additionally, the defendant opened the door. Finally, the purpose of entry was to preserve evidence.

Additional Notes

A warrantless search requires (1) probable cause and (2) exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances exist when “the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable.” This is a preponderance of the evidence standard. Examples of Exigent circumstances could include, fear of safety, flight, destruction of evidence, or the seriousness of the crime being involved.

However, the police cannot create the exigent circumstance. To determine whether the police created the exigent circumstance, see if the police actions would make it reasonably foreseeable that police conduct would lead to the circumstance or bad faith police conduct. Another test under Kentuck v. King, did the police create the exigency by threatening to engage in conduct that violates the 4th Amendment.

McArther, if the police have probable cause to detain while waiting for a search warrant, they are free to keep the status quo.

No-Knock Warrants

The traditional rule is that police have to knock and announce their identity as officers when they are executing a warrant.

State v. Anyan

104 P.3d 511 (Mont. 2004).

Anyan and others were convicted with possession and the intent to distribute dangerous controlled substances.

Question

Were there exigent circumstances present that justified the execution of a warrant without knocking?

Rule

No-knock warrants are only allowed to be premeditated if made by a neutral and detached magistrate included in the application. Otherwise, no-knocks are not allowed unless there is an unexpected exigent circumstance that arises on the scene.

Holding

Here, there were no exigent circumstances. Reversed.

Facts

The police had discovered that the defendants were using a property as a meth lab. Consequently, they were conducting ongoing investigations about the lab. They obtained a warrant describing the probable cause and that the people there had extensive criminal history and could be dangerous. Before obtaining the warrant, the SWAT team was brought in and informed of the situation. Together, the sergeant and SWAT team determined that entry would be no-knock, but that was not included in the application for a warrant.

Eventually, the warrant was granted and the SWAT team entered the property in the early hours of the morning without knocking and announcing. All of the evidence was gathered from this search.

Analysis

This was an invalid execution of the warrant because there were no exigent circumstances to justify a no-knock entry of the property. The purpose of announcing is to encourage entry in a safe manner and no-knock should only be applied if there is a fear of safety for the officers or the destruction of evidence. Here, the officers did not fear for their safety or the neighbors because there was no evidence of evacuation. Additionally, there was no fear of destruction of evidence because a meth lab is difficult to destroy within 5-10 seconds.

However, the dissent argues that the standard for exigent circumstances is reasonable suspicion. Here, the officers had suspicion that this was dangerous (dangerous felons residing in the property and meth labs are inherently dangerous). With this information, that alone should be enough to establish exigent circumstances.

Additional Notes

No-knock warrants are highly disfavored because there is a huge potential for violence and needless destruction of property. The rule to knock and announce is the standard under Wilson, but the exception of exigent circumstances could overcome the standard. If there is a reasonable suspicion of harm to the police or destruction of evidence, this would show the presence of exigent circumstances where a no-knock warrant may be justified. However, if this information is known beforehand, the no-knock must be approved by a magistrate. On the other hand, if the information is obtained in the moment, the police can make the call.

One final note: When the police are trying to obtain a warrant, they have the burden of proof to obtain it. However, if they have a warrant, the defendant needs to show the absence of probable cause.

Special Needs Searches

Camara v. Mun. Ct. of San Franciso

387 U.S. 523 (1967).

Facts

A city inspector was inspecting an apartment building when he was informed that the lessee on the bottom floor was living in violation of the code. As such, the inspectors are trying to enter the home to conduct an inspection without a warrant. When the occupant refused entry, he was charged with resisting an inspection.

Analysis

The court originally said in Frank v. Maryland is that there was no need to obtain a warrant for administrative searches. However, this Court overturns part of Frank to say that a warrant is required and that probable cause will be the standard. However, the amount of probable cause is less where the court will balance personal rights and state interests.

There is an interest for the state to prevent health and safety standards. Additionally, there is a personal rights interest in privacy. As such, the rule is articulated as not necessarily being “dependent on the specific knowledge of the condition of the particular dwelling.”

The dissent argues that Frank should remain the main approach. Particularly, the dissent argues that warrants are not needed here because they are readily granted and will thus destroy the integrity of the warrant system as a whole. The issue is that the court wants to have probable cause but completely undermines the meaning of a warrant.

The exceptions to the warrant requirement here include:

  1. Emergencies – there is no need to wait for a warrant to put out a fire.
  2. Highly regulated industries – Donovan. If there industry is highly regulated and inherently dangerous. This rule applies only to liquor stores, mining, auto junkyards, and gun stores. This rule does not apply to hotels. See Patel.
Disclaimer

The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.