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Law School Case Brief

Brigham City v. Stuart - 2005 UT 13, 122 P.3d 506 (Sup.Ct.)

Rule:

To justify a warrantless entry based on exigent circumstances, a reasonable person must believe that the entry was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons. That standard demands a lesser degree of harm or threat of harm than that necessary to invoke the emergency aid doctrine. The distinction between the approaches to harm taken by the emergency aid and exigent circumstances doctrines is evident from the inclusion of officer safety as a consideration in passing judgment on an entry justified as an exigent circumstance. An officer who acts in a caretaker capacity when providing emergency aid is not likely to expose himself to the risk of harm. The sole consideration is the well being of persons inside a dwelling who are entitled to privacy, but who also may be in dire need of aid.

Facts:

Four police officers for Brigham City responded to a complaint of a loud party. They arrived at the offending residence early in the morning. From a location in the driveway, the officers peered through a fence and saw two apparently underage males drinking alcohol. The officers then entered the backyard through a gate, and obtained a clear view into the back of the house. The officers saw four adults restraining one juvenile. The juvenile broke free, swung a fist, and struck one of the adults. Two officers then opened the screen door and "hollered" to identify themselves. When no one heard them, they entered the kitchen. The officers subsequently arrested the adults, the three defendants., Charles W. Stuart, Shayne R. Taylor and Sandra A. Taylor. The three defendants were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, disorderly conduct, and intoxication. The three defendants filed a motion to suppress. The trial court granted the motion and the appellate court affirmed. Brigham City filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court of Utah, which granted certiorari to review the appellate court's decision.

Issue:

Did the court of appeals properly affirm the trial court's determination that the warrantless entry was not supported by exigent circumstances and was, therefore, unlawful?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Utah concluded that the court of appeals was correct. To justify a warrantless entry based on exigent circumstances, a reasonable person must believe that the entry was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons. That standard demands a lesser degree of harm or threat of harm than that necessary to invoke the emergency aid doctrine. The distinction between the approaches to harm taken by the emergency aid and exigent circumstances doctrines is evident from the inclusion of officer safety as a consideration in passing judgment on an entry justified as an exigent circumstance. An officer who acts in a caretaker capacity when providing emergency aid is not likely to expose himself to the risk of harm. The sole consideration is the well-being of persons inside a dwelling who are entitled to privacy, but who also may be in dire need of aid. The Court concluded that exigent circumstances did not exist to justify the officers' warrantless entry into the kitchen without knocking, and, thus, the motion to suppress was properly granted.

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