Earlier this month, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Virginia homicide case involving the defendant’s challenge to the manner in which the police obtained the evidence that resulted in his conviction for murder. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officers’ actions in entering the defendant’s home were reasonable, based on the “emergency aid” exception to the Fourth Amendment.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a man received a text from his brother, the defendant, explaining that he had recently been struggling and that he was about to join their deceased mother. The defendant’s brother tried to get ahold hold of the defendant with little success, and eventually called the police to the defendant’s home.
The defendant’s brother explained his concern and showed the police the text message his brother had sent him. Police approached the defendant’s door and knocked. The defendant answered, but shortly after, police began to hear a “gargling sound mixed with some coughing and moaning, like pain.” Police asked to enter, but there was no response.
Eventually, police forced their way into the defendant’s apartment, where they found the defendant attempting to stab himself with a knife. During a cursory sweep of the apartment, police officers also found a deceased woman in the next room. The defendant was charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the police officers who broke into his apartment violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court’s Analysis
The court acknowledged that a police officer’s warrantless entry into a home was presumptively invalid. However, the court also explained that there are certain exceptions to this general rule. One such exception, the court explained, is the emergency-aid exception, which “recognizes the right of the police to enter and investigate when someone’s health or physical safety is genuinely threatened.”
Here, the court held that the police officers acted reasonably in entering the defendant’s apartment, given his implied threats he made to his brother that he was going to commit suicide, and the strange noise the police officers heard while knocking at the door.
The court also approved the officer’s cursory sweep of the apartment. The court acknowledged that there was no previous case dealing with the reasonableness of a cursory sweep after a warrantless entry based on the emergency-aid exception; however, the court found that the officers’ conduct here was reasonable. The court explained that police officers are often required to make split-second decisions, and that the police officers, in this case, did not act unreasonably when they checked the defendant’s apartment.
Have You Been Arrested After Police Searched Your Home?
If you have recently been arrested and shared with a serious crime after police searched your home, contact a dedicated Virginia criminal defense attorney for immediate assistance. At the Robinson Law, PLLC, we represent clients who are facing all types of allegations, including Virginia violent crimes and sex crimes. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call (703) 844-3746 to schedule a free consultation today.