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Law School Case Brief

Mincey v. Arizona - 437 U.S. 385, 98 S. Ct. 2408 (1978)


The Fourth Amendment does not bar police officers from making warrantless entries and searches when they reasonably believe that a person within is in need of immediate aid. Similarly, when the police come upon the scene of a homicide they may make a prompt warrantless search of the area to see if there are other victims or if a killer is still on the premises. The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an exigency or emergency. The police may seize any evidence that is in plain view during the course of their legitimate emergency activities. 


During a narcotics raid on petitioner's apartment by an undercover police officer and several plainclothes policemen, the undercover officer was shot and killed, and petitioner was wounded, as were two other persons in the apartment. Other than looking for victims of the shooting and arranging for medical assistance, the narcotics agents, pursuant to a police department directive that police officers should not investigate incidents in which they are involved, made no further investigation. Shortly thereafter, however, homicide detectives arrived on the scene to take charge of the investigation, and they proceeded to conduct an exhaustive four-day warrantless search of the apartment, which included the opening of dresser drawers, the ripping up of carpets, and the seizure of 200 to 300 objects. In the evening of the same day as the raid, one of the detectives went to the hospital where petitioner was confined in the intensive-care unit, and, after giving him Miranda warnings, persisted in interrogating him while he was lying in bed barely conscious, encumbered by tubes, needles, and a breathing apparatus, and despite the fact that he repeatedly asked that the interrogation stop until he could get a lawyer. Subsequently, petitioner was indicted for, and convicted of, murder, assault, and narcotics offenses. At his trial in an Arizona court, during which much of the evidence introduced against him was the product of the four-day search, and on appeal, petitioner contended that the evidence used against him had been unlawfully seized from his apartment without a warrant and that statements obtained from him at the hospital, used to impeach his credibility, were inadmissible because they had not been made voluntarily. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the murder and assault convictions on state-law grounds, but affirmed the narcotics convictions, holding that the warrantless search of a homicide scene is permissible under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and that petitioner's statements in the hospital were voluntary.


Was the search of Mincey's apartment constitutionally permissible?




It was held that since the Arizona Supreme Court's "murder scene" exception to the requirement of a warrant was inconsistent with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the warrantless search of the apartment in the case at bar was not constitutionally permissible simply because a homicide had occurred there. Moreover, the statements made by the accused while he was in the hospital were not voluntary, since the evidence showed that the accused did not want to answer his interrogator, and that while he was weakened by pain and shock, isolated from family, friends, and legal counsel, and barely conscious, his will had been overborne, due process of law thus requiring that the involuntary statements not be used in any way against the accused at his trial.

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