Searching for the Seriously Injured

Kansas v. Fisher, No. 120,031 (Kan. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2019)

Issue: The emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment’s bar on warrantless searches requires an objectively reasonable belief that someone injured is inside. Can officers comply with this prong if they do not ask clarifying questions to people at the scene?

Answer: Yes. Officers can comply with the Fourth Amendment without asking people at the scene clarifying questions.

Facts: Someone called 911 to report a shooting at a residence. After confirming that two women outside the scene were unharmed, officers entered the residence, looking for injured persons. Upon entering the basement, the officer found the defendant and marijuana in plain view. After this, the officer secured the residence before obtaining a warrant. The officers subsequently arrested Fisher. Fisher argued on a motion to suppress that the initial entry into the home by the officers did not comply with the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment because the officers did not ask the women outside clarifying questions.

Discussion: The Fourth Amendment generally prevents officers from entering private dwellings without a warrant. There are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s general bar on warrantless entry. One of these exceptions is the emergency aid exception. The exception exists when officers (1) enter the premises with an objectively reasonable basis to believe someone inside is seriously injured and (2) the manner and scope of the search is reasonable. The Court noted that officers do not need definite proof that someone is inside. Further, 911 calls present particularly exigent circumstances. The Kansas Court of Appeals found that the officers could lawfully continue the search because they had an objectively reasonable assumption that someone was seriously injured. Because the law does not require certainty, there is no need to ask clarifying questions before continuing the search.

Key Authorities:

U.S. Const.amend. IV.

Kan. Const. Bill of Rights § 15.

Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978).

State v. Neighbors, 299 Kan. 234, 249 (2014).

United States v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002).

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