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Weapons charge evidence suppressed due to unjustified search of closet

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a warrantless search inside a home is presumptively unconstitutional, outside of certain narrow exceptions, such as where exigent circumstances justify the search.
 
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    February 12, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Weapons charge evidence suppressed due to unjustified search of closet

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Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a warrantless search inside a home is presumptively unconstitutional, outside of certain narrow exceptions, such as where exigent circumstances justify the search. To qualify as exigent circumstances, there must be an immediate and credible threat or danger, and an objectively reasonable belief immediate entry is required to prevent harm.

If police conduct a warrantless search allegedly relying on exigent circumstances, and such circumstances did not exist, any evidence seized may be suppressed, as the United States Court of Appeals case of U.S. v. Yengel demonstrates.

A grenade in a closet?

Police officers were called to the defendant's home, responding to a report of a domestic altercation. The wife had left the house and was alleging that the defendant was possibly armed. When police arrived, the defendant exited the residence at the officer's request, coming out onto the porch, unarmed. However, the officers arrested the defendant and took him away.

The officer then interviewed the wife, during which she indicated that the defendant kept firearms, as well as a grenade, in the house. The officer was also told that the couple's young son was asleep in an upstairs bedrooms. Rather than evacuating the area or calling for assistance from explosive experts, the officer asked the wife to show him the alleged grenade.

In the upstairs master bedroom, the wife made no further comments about the alleged grenade. The officer asked about the grenade again, and the wife directed him to the closet in a nearby guest bedroom, near the child's bedroom. The closet had a combination keypad and thumbprint scanner. At this point, the officer used a screwdriver to open the door.

After identifying a military ammunition canister that he thought might contain the possible grenade, the officer evacuated the house as well as nearby residences and requested the aid of an ordnance disposal team. The disposal team did not find a grenade, but, rather, a one-pound container of smokeless shotgun powder and an alleged partially assembled explosive device.

The defendant was brought up on weapons charges--specifically, he was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm, under a provision related to possession of parts related to a destructive device. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was found during the warrantless search of the locked closet.

Did exigent circumstances really exist here?

The United States Court of Appeals concluded that the objective circumstances at the time the officer forced open the closet did not constitute an emergency such that a reasonable officer would have believed a preventive entry was necessary.

The alleged grenade was immobile and was locked in the closet. The defendant had already been removed from the scene. In addition, the officer did not immediately evacuate neighboring houses or even move the defendant's young son who was sleeping in a nearby room. The objective facts were not sufficient to justify a reasonable belief that exigent circumstances existed. Thus, the warrantless search was unconstitutional, and the evidence was suppressed.

Protecting your rights and freedom

If you are accused of a crime, or find yourself facing charges that involve evidence that may have been unconstitutionally obtained, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Seek an attorney who has defended people against a wide variety of charges and will bring that knowledge to your own case to protect your rights and freedom.



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