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The exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement may permit suspicionless seizures when officers can narrowly target the seizures based on specific information of a known crime and a controlled geographic area. But officers must support their objectively reasonable belief that there is an emergency with specific articulable facts and reasonable inferences.
The police seized defendant Billy Curry, Jr. after responding to several gunshots that were fired in or near an apartment complex less than a minute earlier. When the police arrived, they encountered five to eight men—including defendant —calmly and separately walking in a public area behind the complex, away from the general vicinity of where the officers believed the shots originated; several other people, likely visitors or residents, standing around closer to the apartments; and another man walking toward the rear of the officers' patrol car, who appeared to be favoring one of his arms. The officers approached defendant, and instructed him to lift his shirt up. When defendant did not comply, defendant was taken on the ground. Subsequently, the officers handcuffed defendant and took him into custody. A grand jury indicted defendant on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Defendant moved to suppress evidence of the revolver, as well as statements he made after his seizure while in custody. The district court granted defendant’s motion, holding that exigent circumstances did not justify the suspicionless, investigatory stop of defendant. On appeal, a panel of the Appellate Court reversed the district court’s suppression ruling. Defendant’s petition for rehearing en banc was granted.
Did the exigent circumstances justify the suspicionless, investigatory stop of defendant?
The Court held that exigent circumstances did not justify the suspicionless, investigatory stop of defendant, who was walking calmly in an open field where others were also walking, in the vicinity of an apartment complex where shots were heard, and the trial court properly granted defendant's motion to suppress a firearm and other evidence. According to the Court, the exigent circumstances doctrine typically involved emergencies justifying a warrantless search of a home, not an investigatory stop of a person, other than when the government isolated a discrete area or group of people in an effort to search for a suspect implicated in a known crime in the immediate aftermath of that crime. Allowing officers to bypass the individualized suspicion requirement based on only the sound of gunfire and the general location where it may have originated would completely cripple a fundamental Fourth Amendment protection.