PEOPLE v. DAVISDocket No. 92172, (Calendar No. 3).
442 Mich. 1 (1993)
497 N.W.2d 910
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued October 13, 1992.
Decided March 2, 1993.
Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, John D. O'Hair, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief, Research, Training and Appeals, for the people.
Bellanca, Beattie & De Lisle, P.C. (by Frank D. Eaman), for the defendant.
We have been asked to determine
The following facts were elicited during an evidentiary hearing in Detroit Recorder's Court on November 2, 1989. On August 4, 1989, Detroit Police Officers Lynn Brown and Royce Hill were on uniformed patrol in Scout Car 7-5. At 5:35 P.M., the two officers heard a radio dispatch directing Scout Car 7-7 to go to the Belmar Motel, at 3250 East Jefferson in downtown Detroit. The exact words of the broadcast were "7-7, 3250 East Jefferson, Belmar Motel, Room 33 or 34, ah, desk clerk says shots fired." Although this dispatch did not direct them to go to the scene, Officers Brown and Hill did so because they were nearby.
When the officers arrived at the Belmar, they parked their car in front of the motel, adjacent to the office. They observed no unusual activity in or around the motel. They did not speak to the desk clerk or the manager, but instead went directly to the rooms. The officers approached room 33 first, testifying that they did so because it was the first one they came to. As they approached the door to room 33, Officer Brown had drawn his service revolver, and Officer Hill was carrying a shotgun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. The officers knocked on the door, announcing either "police," or "police, open up."
In response to this knocking, defendant Davis
The two officers gave different versions of what happened immediately before they entered room 33. Officer Brown testified that while they were trying to get someone to answer the door, a man, whom Officer Brown described as the manager, approached and asked if the officers wanted a key to the room. Officer Brown replied in the affirmative. However, defendant opened the door before the manager returned with the keys. Officer Hill, on the other hand, testified that the officers did not speak to the manager before entering the room. There was no evidence that either of the officers asked this person if he had called 911 and reported that he heard gunshots.
According to the officers, it was three to five minutes before the defendant opened the door. When she finally did, the officers stepped just inside the doorway. After the officers entered the room, they explained to her that they were investigating a report that gunshots had been fired. As they stood there, Officer Brown saw what he thought was a handgun wedged between the mattresses on the bed. He walked over to the bed to retrieve the object and found that it was indeed a gun. In addition, Officer Brown testified that, from his vantage point inside the door, he had observed some objects on the "dresser table." Specifically, he saw a plastic bag with a green substance in it, and a number of pharmaceutical capsules, some
The officers were joined at the scene by other officers, including a narcotics team, approximately twenty minutes to one-half hour after searching the room. According to Officers Hill and Brown, the unit originally dispatched to the scene, Scout Car 7-7, never arrived. In total, the police seized six bottles of narcotics, a blue and white plastic bag containing two blue envelopes marked "Most Wanted," one ziplock bag containing rock cocaine, one aluminum foil container of white powdery substance, a white pill bottle containing forty-nine pink capsules that contained a white powdery substance, a red memo book, one box of packaging envelopes, an ink pad with a stamp marked "Most Wanted," three razor blades, two loose pink capsules, three ziplock-type plastic bags and $3,370 in cash. The officers testified that all of these items were found on the top of the dresser table.
At the evidentiary hearing, the trial judge asked Officer Hill what he would have done if, after the officers entered the room, defendant had told them to leave without making any investigation. Officer Hill responded that he would not have allowed her to close the door and go about her business, "[b]ecause due to the run, I didn't know if anyone was in there shot, could have been somebody in there hurt." The trial judge asked, "She wasn't gonna go anywhere until at least you satisfied yourself that either the shots had not been fired from the room
The police dispatch that originally brought the officers to the Belmar was based on a call to 911. A transcript and tape of that call was admitted into evidence at the hearing. The caller claimed to be the manager of the "Belmont" Hotel on Jefferson, and reported hearing "shots coming out of 33 or 34...." In addition to giving the wrong name of the motel, the caller was unable to give the address or the cross street. In explanation, the caller claimed to have just started working at the Belmar.
The police found no indication that shots were actually fired in either room 33 or 34. No other person, injured or otherwise, was found in room 33. Furthermore, it does not appear that the police ever searched room 34. Officer Brown testified that he never entered room 34, and that he did not know if Officer Hill or any of the police officers who came to the scene ever did. Officer Hill did not testify with regard to this point. It appears that the police quickly came to the conclusion that the report of "shots fired" was false, or that they lost interest in its significance after discovering evidence of a drug violation. In fact, after discovering the evidence, Officer Brown testified that he told defendant that she probably had been "set up," suggesting that he thought the basis of the radio dispatch was false.
After the evidentiary hearing, the trial court ordered that the evidence be suppressed and dismissed the case, stating:
Although he granted defendant's motion, he did so reluctantly, holding that the police acted reasonably in all that they did, and stated:
The people appealed this decision.
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence and reversed.
Furthermore, the Court also stated that the police may make entries without warrants into protected areas when they reasonably believe a person within is in need of immediate aid. Id., p 475. However, the Court did not provide further analysis of this doctrine, and did not specifically apply it to the facts of this case. Finally, it found that the seizure of the incriminating evidence was
The Court of Appeals denied defendant's motion for rehearing on July 25, 1991. This Court granted leave to appeal, 439 Mich. 1008 (1992).
These facts require us to determine whether the United States Constitution permits the police to force entry into a motel room on the basis of a police dispatch stating that a witness reported hearing gunshots coming from one of two motel rooms, without further corroboration. This in turn requires a discussion of two exceptions to the warrant requirement: first, what is often called the emergency aid exception and, second, what is sometimes called the community caretaking exception.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and provides that no warrants shall issue without probable cause.
Examples of exceptions to the warrant requirement are: (1) searches incident to arrest, (2) automobile searches and seizures, (3) plain view seizure, (4) consent, (5) stop and frisk, and (6) exigent circumstances. People v Toohey,
Finally, an occupant of an hotel or motel room is also entitled to the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Stoner v California,
A number of potential issues are not disputed by the parties. First, the people concede that the
The people contend that the officers were performing an "emergency circumstance" or "community caretaking" search and thus the searches should be found legal if the police were acting reasonably. Traditional probable cause should not be required. Defendant asserts that these exceptions do not justify the police entry.
The so-called emergency aid exception was described by the United States Supreme Court in Mincey v Arizona, supra, and what is sometimes called the community caretaker exception was recognized by that Court in Cady v Dombrowski,
A. THE EMERGENCY AID EXCEPTION
Federal and state courts have long recognized an exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows police officers to make entries without warrants under circumstances where they believe some person is in need of assistance or to prevent serious harm to someone. An early enunciation of this doctrine appeared in the influential case Wayne v United States, 115 US App DC 234;
The United States Supreme Court recognized this exception in Mincey v Arizona, supra. In refusing to recognize a general murder scene exception, the Mincey Court set forth the following dicta:
This language indicates that such "entries" need not be subject to traditional probable cause analysis, but that their legality should be evaluated on the basis of whether the police "reasonably believed" a person needed aid.
The only case decided by this Court that deals with the emergency aid exception is Ohlinger, supra.
This Court ruled that the entry into Ohlinger's home was legal and that the evidence obtained as a result was admissible. In part, the entry was justified on the grounds that the police had probable cause to arrest. However, this Court also held:
It is possible to read Ohlinger as requiring the police to have probable cause to believe a person was in need of immediate aid before they can enter a dwelling without a warrant. However, the people submit that Ohlinger only requires that the police have "reasonable belief" because, in formulating the standard in Ohlinger, this Court relied on Mincey and other cases in which reasonable belief is the standard. The people point out that, in Ohlinger, this Court stated the dicta from Mincey that police may make entries to render emergency aid on the basis of reasonable belief. Ohlinger,
First, we look to Mincey, supra. Although it is not clear how to apply the standard articulated in Mincey, that case cites a number of state and federal cases that did apply this doctrine. The Court specifically stated that in citing those cases, it did not necessarily approve their holdings. However, some of these cases remain influential and thus shed some light on how to actually apply this exception to the warrant requirement.
For example, People v Barone,
Root v Gauper,
In holding that this search was not justified by the emergency doctrine, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that there was no evidence that the police believed that an emergency existed at the time of entry. Id., p 365. The court did not apply a traditional probable cause analysis, but instead stated that the police could legally enter a
We find that a number of our sister courts have also formulated persuasive and instructive tests. For example, Wisconsin articulated such a test in State v Prober,
The court needed to determine whether a belief that the defendant was overdosing on some drug justified a police search of the defendant's handbag that may have contained such a drug. In order to evaluate the legality of this search, the court formulated a test for what it referred to as the medical "emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement." Id., p 362. Accordingly, the court formulated a two-part test for a valid without a warrant search comprised of both a subjective and an objective element. First, the officer performing the search must actually be motivated by a perceived need to render aid. Second, even if the officer is actually motivated by this perceived need, the circumstances must be such that a reasonable person would think that an emergency existed. Id., p 365. Accordingly, the court found
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has applied this test in determining the lawfulness of an entry into a home. For example, in State v Boggess,
The court applied the test articulated in Prober, finding that the entry into the defendant's home was legal under the emergency exception to the warrant requirement. Id., p 458. It noted that the trial court had made a finding that the social worker and police officer were motivated by a perceived need to render aid or assistance, and thus the subjective part of the Prober test was met. Id., p 450. As for the second step, it found that a reasonable person would believe that an emergency requiring immediate entry existed. Id., p 458. Although the court acknowledged that an anonymous call is a less reliable source of information than some other sources might be, it found that because the call in this case provided such detailed information, some of which was corroborated before the social worker and police officer entered the home, it could support a reasonable
The New York Court of Appeals fashioned a useful test in People v Mitchell,
In formulating this test the court acknowledged that police officers need not be completely unmotivated by the desire to solve a crime to invoke this exception. It noted that in many emergency situations there is a very strong possibility that criminal activities could account for the emergency. Thus, the police are bound to be motivated in part by the desire to solve a crime in most emergency situations. However, because this exception is a narrow one, courts must closely scrutinize the actions and motives of the police in order to determine whether the exception applies. This
Finally, we note that one commentator sets forth the standard required for police to act as whether the police had reasonable grounds to believe that some kind of emergency existed. 2 LaFave, Search & Seizure, § 6.6(a), p 698. Specifically, there must be evidence that would lead a prudent and reasonable official to see a need to act. Id. The officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts, which, taken with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant intrusion into protected areas. Id.
This survey of the cases that we relied upon in Ohlinger and of other leading cases in this area makes it clear that much authority supports the conclusion that while the police need not possess probable cause that a person is in need of immediate aid before entering a dwelling, they must possess a reasonable belief that such circumstances exist.
B. THE COMMUNITY CARETAKING FUNCTION
The police perform a variety of functions that are separate from their duties to investigate and solve crimes. These duties are sometimes categorized under the heading of "community caretaking" or "police caretaking" functions. When police, while performing one of these functions, enter into a protected area and discover evidence of a crime, this evidence is often admissible. The people argue here that administering emergency aid is one of the caretaking functions of the police, and, because the police officers in this case were performing a caretaking function and doing so in a reasonable way, the discovered evidence should be admitted.
The first United States Supreme Court case that
The United States Supreme Court held that this entry into the car was legal and that the evidence should not be suppressed. In finding the intrusion legal, the Court noted that the officers were not searching for evidence of any crime, but rather were confronting one of the situations that local police officers frequently encounter and were acting in an administrative, rather than investigatory, capacity. The Court stated that the police were acting pursuant to their "community caretaking function," which the Court described as follows:
So, according to the United States Supreme Court, the defining characteristic of community caretaking functions is that they are totally unrelated to the criminal investigation duties of the police.
Cady does not include any discussion of the standard of suspicion required for police to enter into protected areas when performing these functions. It is clear from the Court's opinion that the concepts of probable cause and reasonable suspicion were inapposite to an inquiry into whether the police action in this case violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court's opinion suggested that because the police were not looking for any evidence of a crime, they needed no suspicion at all to "search."
Federal and state courts have included a variety of police activities under the heading of community caretaking functions. Courts have held that impoundment of automobiles and inventory searches of them, as in Cady, responding to missing vehicle complaints,
The people assert that rendering aid to persons in distress is one of the community caretaking functions of the police. We agree. Indeed, this Court already stated that entries made to render aid to a person in a private dwelling were part of the community caretaking function, Ohlinger, supra, p 483.
In United States v Nord,
This Court has issued only two decisions besides Ohlinger discussing the community caretaker exception. Both relate to police impoundment and inventory of automobiles. In People v Toohey,
We conclude that the Court of Appeals was in error when it found the community caretaking exception to be a subcategory of the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. In so stating, they confused two very distinct doctrines. Neither the community caretaking nor the emergency aid exceptions should be confused with the exigent circumstances exception. When the police act pursuant to the exigent circumstances exception, they are searching for evidence or perpetrators of a crime. Accordingly, in addition to showing the existence of an emergency leaving no time for a warrant, they must also possess probable cause that the premises to be searched contains such evidence or suspects. See People v Blasius, supra, pp 593-594. See also Schmerber v California,
Further, although administering emergency aid is referred to as one of the community caretaking functions of the police, this should not have any effect on the law governing the emergency aid exception. While categorizing these different activities under the heading of "community caretaking functions" may be useful in some respects, it does not follow that all searches resulting from such activities should be judged by the same standard. Community caretaking activities are varied and are performed for different reasons. Although, for example, inventory of a car and entry into a dwelling may both be categorized as "caretaking functions," it does not follow that both types of activities should be judged by the same standard. It is particularly important to note that the levels of intrusion the police make while performing these functions are different. For example, a police inventory of a car is much less intrusive than a police entry into a dwelling. The extent to which the police intrude into protected areas is only one of the unique issues presented by the emergency aid doctrine. This is why so many courts have seen fit to articulate standards specifically applicable to emergency aid entries. Accordingly, we hold that when the police are investigating a situation in which they reasonably believe someone is in need of immediate aid, their actions should be governed by the emergency aid doctrine, regardless of whether these actions can also be classified as community caretaking activities.
Drawing upon the standard articulated in Ohlinger, and upon the cases discussed above, we hold that police may enter a dwelling without a warrant when they reasonably believe that a person within is in need of immediate aid. They must possess specific and articulable facts that lead
In this case, the police had no warrant and no probable cause. Therefore, they could not legally enter the motel room to search for evidence of a crime. The entry can only be justified by showing that they had another purpose — one that fits one of the exceptions requiring less than probable cause.
The test we have articulated requires a determination of whether the officers possessed a reasonable belief based on specific, articulable facts that someone in room 33 was in need of immediate aid. The police had received a radio dispatch informing them that the manager at the motel had reported hearing shots fired in or out of one of two motel
It is important to note that unlike Barone, supra, where the police themselves heard screams, the police in this case had not heard shots fired. Nor did they interview any witnesses who heard them, not even the desk clerk, whom the dispatch identified as the source of the information. Further, as we noted above, unlike Boggess, supra, where the anonymous caller gave considerable detail about alleged child abuse, the initial source of information here gave very little detail about the situation. In this case, the caller claimed to be the manager of the motel, but gave an incorrect name of the motel, and was unable to provide its address or cross street, purportedly because of having just started the job. In addition, the record does not indicate that the police made inquiries of the manager who approached them, or that they knocked on other doors. They encountered no circumstances that suggested that shots had in fact been fired. We recognize that the defendant took several minutes to open the door and that the police became suspicious that she was hiding something. Indeed, they could well have considered the possibility that she was concealing a person in need of aid. However, there are other possible
The issue in this case is not whether the sound of gunfire could justify entry into a motel room under the emergency aid doctrine. We surmise that in most cases it would. The issue, rather, is whether information reporting such sounds coming from a somewhat questionable source who possesses limited knowledge of the location of the motel was, without further corroboration, sufficient to provide a reasonable basis on which to expect that a person or persons were in need of emergency aid. Under the circumstances of this case, we answer that question in the negative.
As the trial judge stated, we do not question that the police may investigate when they receive a dispatch like this one, but rather in what manner they may do so. Our decision requires that the police have reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that a person within is in need of immediate aid before they force entry into a dwelling. The police were unquestionably justified in investigating the radio dispatch. They were justified in going to the door of room 33 and attempting to ascertain if shots had indeed been fired. They were free to interview a manager or desk clerk, or the occupants of adjoining rooms. However, the constitution prohibits them from forcing entry into a dwelling on the basis of a speculation that someone inside may have been injured.
Accordingly, we find that the people have not shown that the police reasonably could have believed, on the basis of specific and articulable facts,
CAVANAGH, C.J., and LEVIN, BOYLE, RILEY, GRIFFIN, and MALLETT, JJ., concurred with BRICKLEY, J.
Leagle.com reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.
- No Cases Found