Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence seized in a warrantless search of a "homicide crime scene" was denied on the ground that the police were entitled to make a thorough search of any crime scene and the objects found
One night in 1996, petitioner and his wife were vacationing at a cabin in a state park. After petitioner called 911 to report that they had been attacked, the police arrived to find petitioner waiting outside the cabin, with injuries to his head and legs. After questioning him, an officer entered the building and found the body of petitioner's wife, with fatal head wounds. The officers closed off the area, took petitioner to the hospital, and searched the exterior and environs of the cabin for footprints or signs of forced entry. When a police photographer arrived at about 5:30 a.m., the officers reentered the building and proceeded to "process the crime scene." Brief in Opposition 5. For over 16 hours, they took photographs, collected evidence, and searched through the contents of the cabin. According to the trial court, "[a]t the crime scene, the investigating officers found on a table in Cabin 13, among other things, a briefcase, which they, in the ordinary course of investigating a homicide, opened, wherein they found and seized various photographs and negatives." Indictment No. 96—F-119 (Cir. Ct. Fayette County, W. Va., May 28, 1997), App. A to Pet. for Cert., p. 2.
Petitioner was indicted for the murder of his wife and moved to suppress the photographs and negatives discovered in an envelope in the closed briefcase during the search.
In denying the motion, the trial court said nothing about inventory or plain view, but instead approved the search as one of a "homicide crime scene":
After hearing an oral presentation of petitioner's petition for appeal of this ruling, and with the full record before it, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia denied discretionary review. No. 982196 (Jan. 13, 1999), App. B to Pet. for Cert.
A warrantless search by the police is invalid unless it falls within one of the narrow and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement, Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967), none of which the trial court invoked
This position squarely conflicts with Mincey v. Arizona, supra, where we rejected the contention that there is a "murder scene exception" to the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment. We noted that police may make warrantless entries onto premises if they reasonably believe a person is in need of immediate aid and may make prompt warrantless searches of a homicide scene for possible other victims or a killer on the premises, id., at 392, but we rejected any general "murder scene exception" as "inconsistent with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments— . . . the warrantless search of Mincey's apartment was not constitutionally permissible simply because a homicide had recently occurred there." Id., at 395; see also Thompson v. Louisiana, 469 U.S. 17, 21 (1984) (per curiam). Mincey controls here.
Although the trial court made no attempt to distinguish Mincey, the State contends that the trial court's ruling is supportable on the theory that petitioner's direction of the police to the scene of the attack implied consent to search as
The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted, the judgment of the Circuit Court of West Virginia, Fayette County, is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.