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Law School Case Brief

State v. Dias - 62 Haw. 52, 609 P.2d 637 (1980)

Rule:

Exigent circumstances exist when immediate police action is required to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the likely escape of a suspect or the threatened removal or destruction of evidence.

Facts:

Acting on information received from an unnamed informant that a gambling game was in progress in a shack on Sand Island, Hawai'i, Officer Pedro proceeded to the area known as "Squatters' Row," arriving there at approximately 11:05 p.m. As the officer approached the building, he heard words that he associated with what he referred to as a "game of craps." Standing at arm's length from the split doorway of the building, he was able to see a gaming table through a two to three-inch gap between the two doors. He immediately entered, without prior announcement, and arrested the defendants. The defendants, who had been charged with gambling, moved to suppress Officer Pedro's testimony in its entirety, arguing that the same violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court granted the motion.

Issue:

Was the warrantless search and arrest violative of the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights?

Answer:

Yes, in some respects.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Hawai'i noted that the defendants were squatters on government property, and as such, they were not protected by the Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches and seizures. Although the Court recognized the privacy rights of the defendants with respect to the interior of the building, the Court held that as the land was a public property, defendants had no right to expect that members of the public, including curious passersby, might not approach as close to the shack as the officer. However, the Court held that evidence obtained following the warrantless entry was properly suppressed. According to the Court, absent exigent circumstances, the police may not enter a private building or dwelling without either a search warrant or a warrant of arrest.

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