As a general rule, police need a warrant in order to enter and search a person's home. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. One type of exception is known as exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances exist when the situation makes the needs of officers so compelling that a warrantless search is reasonable. A common exigent circumstance is when officers believe that someone is in need of aid due to injury or threat of injury, or when officers have a legitimate concern for their safety or the safety of others.
A recent decision from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals highlights when exigent circumstances exist to justify the warrantless entry of a home and search of an occupant. In United States v. Quarterman, a woman was moving out of her boyfriend's apartment. During the process of moving out, there was a heated argument and the woman's mother called the police, reporting that there was a heated argument and the man involved had a gun in his waistband. Officers responded to the apartment for a "domestic with a weapon involved."
Upon arrival, the officers were concerned for the safety of the woman. Officers entered the apartment and searched the defendant, finding a gun in his waistband. Quarterman moved to suppress the gun as the fruit of an unlawful warrantless search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The motion was granted by the District Court and the government appealed.
On appeal, the 8th Circuit held that the officer's warrantless entry was reasonable because they were concerned for the safety of the woman and subsequently their own safety. As a result, the search was not a violation of Quarterman's Fourth Amendment rights.
The Fourth Amendment and search warrant law are extremely complex and can only be properly analyzed by an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you have been subjected to a search, with or without a warrant, call the attorneys of Olson Defense today to protect your rights.