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Appeals Court Finds Warrantless Entry Jusitified Under Emergency Exception

air-soft-gun-1-1500175-300x189In Commonwealth v. Arias, the Appeals Court reversed the trial judge’s allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress and held that the warrantless entry by the police into the apartment building where the defendant resided was justified under the emergency aid doctrine.

The basic facts were as follows. “[T]he Lawrence police department received a 911 call from a woman who reported that as she was walking down the street, she saw two ‘Spanish guys’” with a semiautomatic weapon and that “she heard one of the men ‘load the gun’ before entering the apartment building at ‘7 Royal Street.’…. The woman gave a description of the men to the 911 dispatcher,” who then radioed it to officers on patrol: “‘two Hispanic males enter[ing] a house, one in a gray jacket, [and] one in a black jacket’ while one of the males was loading a gun. During this same ‘time frame,’ the Lawrence police department was investigating ‘a rash of home invasions’ ‘[a]round this [Royal Street] area.’” Officers responding to the dispatch “discovered a four-unit apartment building with the address of 5-7 Royal Street…. [T]wo units were located on the first floor (apartment 5A and apartment 7A)…. At the back of the building, there was a porch with two rear doors.” Sergeant Cerullo went to the rear of the building and there “saw a ‘Hispanic male with facial hair’ exit the left rear door of the porch area. The man, later identified as the defendant, was ‘wearing a black and gray sweater’ and was moving ‘quickly and with purpose.’ …. Cerullo shouted, ‘Lawrence Police’ and commanded, ‘Show me your hands.’ The defendant appeared ‘shocked’ and quickly retreated back into the building, ‘closing the door behind him.’ …. Cerullo attempted to follow him, but the door was locked. At this time, [another officer] was positioned at the front of the building. He knocked on the door of apartment 5A, but there was no answer. He also knocked on the door of apartment 7A and spoke with the residents of that unit.” They were unable to provide any information about the occupants of apartment 5A. “The police then decided to forcibly enter apartment 5A out of concern that a home invasion was taking place and that there were ‘possible armed subjects inside, as well as victims.’…. When the police entered through the front door of the apartment, they found no one inside. During the protective sweep, they observed in plain view: narcotics, a scale, and ‘thousands’ of plastic bags on the floor. Still in pursuit of any potentially armed subjects or victims, the officers went down an interior back stairway, where they found the defendant and two other men hiding in a storage area in the basement.” After the return of indictments against the defendant, he moved to suppress the fruits of the warrantless entry into his apartment. The judge allowed the motion, rejecting the Commonwealth’s contention that the police were entitled to enter the apartment under the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement.

In its decision overturning the judge’s ruling, the majority of the Appeals Court panel opined that the police properly invoked the emergency aid doctrine because “there were objectively reasonable grounds for the [officers] to believe that a home invasion was in progress, or that some type of safety risk was posed to potential victims inside … apartment [5A].” In the Court’s view, the reasonableness of the officers’ sense of urgency was demonstrated by (1) the 911 caller’s report that one of the Hispanic males had loaded his weapon; (2) Sergeant Cerullo’s “observation of the defendant matching the description provided by the caller”; (3) “the defendant’s ‘shocked’ expression and hasty reentry into the building”; and (4) “the Lawrence police department’s recent investigation of ‘a rash’ of home invasions within [the] same ‘area’ and ‘time frame.’” The Court pointed out that invocation of the emergency aid exception did not require “evidence of prior threats or acts of violence at apartment 5A, … expressions of concern from family members or friends [of the apartment’s occupants] , … [or] cries for help from persons … in danger at the scene.”

Under the law, a police officer’s ability to enter a home without a warrant is strictly limited to specific circumstances. When such an entry has occurred, and the police have charged a person as a result of evidence obtained or observed as a result of that entry, it is of the utmost importance that that entry be challenged to the fullest. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is well versed in suppression law. He has successfully handled numerous motions to suppress and zealously fights for his clients at each and every stage of a criminal case. Call him today for a free consultation.