Monday, May 23, 2005

Case o' The Week: Martinez & the "Emergency Exception" to the Warrant Requirement

The Ninth endorses yet another exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement in United States v. Monroe Martinez, __ F.3d __,2005 WL 1139939 (9th Cir. May 16, 2005), available here. In Martinez, the Court upheld a warrantless search in a D.V. case -- although the alleged victim was safe, uninjured, and outside the house searched.

Players: Disappointing, though not particularly surprising, decision by Judge Sidney Thomas.

Facts: A cop was sent to a home in response to an interrupted 911 domestic violence call. 2005 WL 1139939, *1. He had been there before, and recalled a woman had had a "fat lip" because she had been hit by a male. Id. When the cop got there, a woman was crying but uninjured in the front yard. Id. He heard someone yelling inside the house. Id. The cop entered, not suspecting that he would find evidence in the house. A boy inside lead the cop to the defendant – when the cop and defendant returned to the living room, there were two rifles and a shotgun in plain view. Id. A felon, the defendant was charged federally with §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2), moved to suppress the warrantless search, and ultimately appealed the denial of his motion. Id.

Issue(s): Because there was no exigency to justify this warrantless search, was the search unlawful?

Held: No, the search was lawful. The "exigency doctrine is inapplicable because the officer did not believe that evidence of a crime would be found inside the house." Id. at *2. "Although the exigency doctrine does not provide a constitutional basis for the warrantless entry in this case, the emergency doctrine provides justification. The emergency doctrine provides that if a police office, while investigating within the scope necessary to respond to an emergency, discovers evidence of illegal activity, that evidence is admissible even if there was not probable cause to believe that such evidence would have been found." Id. (internal quotation and citations omitted).

Of Note: The Court also rejected a Miranda challenge, on that theory that officers, "when reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety, to engage in limited questioning of suspects about weapons in potentially violent situations." Id. at *4(internal quotation and citation omitted). Here, the Court found, the officer "was entitled to make inquiries about the weapons under the Quarles public safety exception to Miranda." Id.

How to Use: This domestic violence case presented tough facts for the defense, but note the three-part limiting test for the "emergency exception" may preclude its use in other cases. Id. at *3 ("(1) The police must have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property, (2) The search must not be primarily motivated by intent to arrest and seize evidence, and (3) There must be some reasonable basis approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place to be searched.") (internal quotation and citation omitted).

For example, too much attenuation between the place searched and the emergency will vitiate the exception. Id., citing United States v. Deemer, 354 F.3d 1130, 1132-33 (9th Cir. 2004).

For Further Reading: Ironically, there is an interesting and useful little article discussing the emergency exception and the non-existent "murder scene" warrant exception on the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center web page. See Bryon Lemmons, A Murder Scene Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement?, available here. The article is worth a read, to understand how the"emergency exception" does not automatically kick in during investigations involving violence.

Steven Kalar, Senior Litigator N.D. Cal FPD. Website available at


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