Exigent Circumstances

"Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts."

Click on the case titles to link to the full case decision.

Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963)-Police can enter a residence without a warrant to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence.

Wayne v. US, 318 f. 2d 205 (Court of Appeals DC Circuit, 1963)-Police, having a report of an unconscious person in a home, can force entry to check the welfare of the person as an exigent circumstance. Evidence found in plain view after entry is admissible. The Court stated, "Acting in response to reports of "dead bodies," the police may find the "bodies" to be common drunks, diabetics in shock, or distressed cardiac patients. But the business of policemen and firemen is to act, not to speculate or meditate on whether the report is correct. People could well die in emergencies if police tried to act with the calm deliberation associated with the judicial process. Even the apparently dead often are saved by swift police response."

Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294 (1967)- "The exigencies of the situation," in which the officers were in pursuit of a suspected armed felon in the house which he had entered only minutes before they arrived, permitted their warrantless entry and search.

United States v. Santana, 427 U. S. 38 (1976)-When in “hot pursuit”, police can chase someone into their home without a warrant.

Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499 (1978)-A burning building clearly presents an exigency of sufficient proportions to render a warrantless entry "reasonable," and, once in the building to extinguish a blaze, and for a reasonable time thereafter, firefighters may seize evidence of arson that is in plain view and investigate the causes of the fire.

United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 (9th Cir.)(1984)-EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES - Emergency conditions. 'Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.'

Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740 (1984)-The crime of driving under the influence is a minor criminal offense and does not justify the warrantless entry of a residence to arrest and preserve evidence of blood-alcohol level. Application of the exigent circumstances exception in the context of a home entry should rarely be sanctioned when there is probable cause to believe that only a minor offense, such as the kind at issue in this case, has been committed.

United States v. Grissett, 925 F.2d 776 (4th Cir. 1991)-The odor of marijuana coming from a motel room provided exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless entry.

US v. Cephas, No. 004780P (4th Cir.)(2001)-The odor of marijuana coming from a residence is probable cause that a crime was occurring. Warrantless entry is justified due to exigent circumstances.

US v. Carter, 01-5338 (6th Cir.)(2003)-Officers were investigating drug violations at a motel. They knocked on the door and the occupant opened. The officers smelled the odor of burned marijuana and saw a "blunt" (hollowed out cigar filled with marijuana) in plain view. The officers had the exigent circumstance of the possible rapid destruction of evidence. They were justified in entering the motel without a warrant and seize the "blunt".

United States v. Rhiger, 315 F.3d 1283(10th Cir.)(2003)-The defendant was observed by federal drug agents driving two companions to locations where materials were bought. The materials were components used to manufacture methamphetamine. The agents observed the material being carried into a house. They observed the house for about an hour. They then detected the odor of cooking meth coming from the house. The agents entered the house without a warrant fearing that an active lab could explode. The agents rendered the lab safe, secured the residence, and obtained a search warrant. The entry to the residence was lawful because it was a public safety exception under exigent circumstances.

US v. Martinez, 406 f.3d 1160 (9th Cir. 2005)-Officers responded to a domestic call. Upon arrival, the female party was outside. The officers heard the male party inside yelling. They conducted a warrantless entry to make sure the male was not getting a weapon or injured. The officers found several firearms in plain view. The male was a convicted felon and was arrested. The Court held that the evidence was lawfully obtained because the officers had exigent circumstances to enter the residence.

Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U. S. 05-502(2006)-Officers responded to a disturbance and found a party with under aged drinkers. The officers were outside and looked into the kitchen. They saw a juvenile punch an adult in the face. A struggle began. The officers entered the residence and announced themselves twice before the subjects in the struggle noticed them and settled down.

The officers reasonably believed both that the injured adult might need help and that the violence in the kitchen was just beginning. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment required them to wait until another blow rendered someone “unconscious” or “semi-conscious” or worse before entering. The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties; an officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided. The entry has to be objectively reasonable, which they were in this case. The officer's subjective motives are irrelevant.

US v. Snipe, 515 f.3d 947 (9th Cir. 2008)-A hysterical person called the police and said something to the effect of, "get the cops here now", then hung up. The police arrived and entered through an ajar front door. They found the defendant inside with a large amount of drugs, paraphernalia, and a gun with the serial number removed. Snipe was arrested. He sought to have the evidence excluded based on unlawful entry by police. The Court held that the officers' belief that someone inside needed emergency aid was objectively reasonable and the entry was lawful.

Johnson v. the City of Memphis, 617 F.3d 864 (6th Cir. 2010)-"We hold that the combination of a 911 hang call, an unanswered return call, and an open door with no response from within the residence is sufficient to satisfy the exigency requirement. The district court was correct in finding that the police were justified in entering the home to sweep for a person in need of immediate assistance under the emergency aid exception. The whole point of the 911 system is to provide people in need of emergency assistance an expeditious way to request it."

Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U. S.___ 09-91 (2010)-Police responded to a disturbance and found the defendant had done considerable damage to his vehicle and outside property. They noticed blood drops on the vehicle and clothes in it. They observed him inside his residence in a rage throwing items. He had a cut on his hand. They officers were concerned for his safety and the safety of other possible victims inside. The defendant refused to let him in and demanded the officers get a search warrant. They entered anyway. The defendant pointed a long gun at one of the officers. The officer withdrew the defendant was later charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Held: The officers do not need ironclad proof of "a likely serious, life-threatening" injury to invoke the emergency aid exception and make a warrantless entry into the house. It was reasonable to believe the defendant hurt himself and needed treatment and his rage made him unable to provide it, or that someone else may be hurt, or about to be hurt.

Kentucky v. King, 563 US No. 09–1272 (2011)-The police were seeking a drug dealer that fled into an apartment complex. They did not know which apartment he went into. They, however, smelled burning marijuana coming from an apartment. They banged on the door loudly and announced their presence. They heard noises in the apartment that led them to believe drugs were being destroyed. The officers forced entry and found marijuana and cocaine. The Kentucky Supreme Court excluded the evidence. The Court had adopted the “police-created exigency” doctrine. This doctrine means that if an officer created the circumstances that led to the exigency when it was reasonably foreseeable that their investigative tactics would create the exigency, then the evidence is excluded. The Kentucky Court basically said that the officers should not have knocked on the door. They should have just got a warrant. By knocking on the door and announcing themselves, the police created the exigency by spooking the occupants into destroying the drugs. The US Supreme Court ruled that the Kentucky Court’s reasoning was faulty and not in line with the 4th Amendment. The correct standard is whether the police created the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment. In this case the officers had a lawful right to knock on the door. And therefore, the forced entry of the residence was allowed.

Ryburn v. Huff, 565 U. S. ____ (2012)-Police went to the Huff's house to talk to Vincent Huff, a juvenile student who was rumored to have written a letter threatening to "shoot up" the school. He had been absent for two days and is frequently bullied. His classmates believed that he was capable of carrying out the threat. The police knocked on the door, but got no response. They called the house, and still no response. They called Mrs. Huff's cell phone. She answered and said she was in the house. She told the police that Vincent was with her. Mrs. Huff hung up on the officer while he was talking to her. A few minutes later The mother and son came out. The police asked to come inside to talk. Mrs. Huff refused. In the officer's opinion, this refusal was very unusual. The officer asked Mrs. Huff if there were guns in the house. She responded by turning around and running into the house. The officers, fearing for their safety, chased her into the house. The officers remained in the house even after Mr. Huff came out of another room and challenged their authority to be in his house. They questioned Vincent and after approx. 10 minutes determined that the rumors were false and they left. The Huffs sued the police for violating their 4th Amendment rights by entering their home without a warrant.

The Supreme Court held that it was objectionably reasonable under the totality of the circumstances for the police officers to believe violence was imminent justifying the warrantless entry.

US v. Ferguson, 11-3806-cr (2nd Cir. 2012)-Ferguson was involved in an incident where a gun was involved. He was later arrested and questioned. The officer was concerned for the public’s safety in locating the gun. He questioned the defendant over an hour after his arrest without giving the defendant his Miranda warnings. The defendant took the officer to the gun location. The defense attorney tried to get the statement and gun excluded claiming the time delay defeated the public safety claim. The court held that the gun still posed an immediate threat to the public and the exception to the Miranda requirement still applied.

US v. Mongold, 12-7073 (10th Cir. 2013)-Officers entered a home after the door was opened in response to a knock. The officers smelled marijuana. They forced their way in to prevent the destruction of evidence. The court found the entry was unlawful. Before an officer can, without warrant, enter a home to prevent the destruction of evidence the following criteria must be met:

  1. The entry must be based on probable cause.
  2. There must be a "serious crime".
  3. The destruction of evidence is likely.

The court determined that lacking probable cause of distribution or trafficking of marijuana, the odor only indicates simple possession, which in Oklahoma where the case originated is a misdemeanor offense. Therefore, the "serious crime" requirement was not met.