Monday, August 19, 2019

Exigent circumstances allow the police to enter the house without a warrant

The Grateful Dead once sang, "if you've got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in." That may be true as far as it goes. The Fourth Amendment says the police cannot search your property (including your home) without a warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause. But the courts have carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as when exigent circumstances require the police to come in without a warrant to deal with whatever chaos or lawbreaking would make it impossible to get a signed warrant.

The case is Molina v. City of Elmira, a summary order issued on August 7. This case went to trial on the plaintiff's search and arrest claim. Under Second Circuit law, in determining if a warrantless search is legal, we consisder:

(1) the gravity or violent nature of the offense with which the suspect is to be charged; (2) whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed; (3) a clear showing of probable cause ... to believe that the suspect committed the crime; (4) strong reason to believe that the suspect is in the premises being entered; (5) a likelihood that the suspect will escape if not swiftly apprehended; and (6) the peaceful circumstances of the entry.
The police entered Molina's property because of a "single, hectic incident involving a loud, late-night domestic dispute." Here is how the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Carney and Bianco) summarizes that night:

Testimony at trial described the circumstances at Molina’s home on the night in question as a single, hectic incident involving a loud, late-night domestic dispute between Molina’s inebriated son, Junior, and his ex-girlfriend, who lived in the adjoining home, and Junior’s escalating threats against her; attempts by Junior to flee and physically resist arrest; Molina’s intervention in the attempted arrest, in which he shouted at, punched, and shoved the arresting officer; a dog attack on one officer and tasering of the dog by another; and the eventual arrests of Junior, Molina, and another relative who lived next door—all in a short period of time. 
 This will justify a warrantless entry, the Court of Appeals held, affirming the district court's post-trial ruling that "Junior’s level of intoxication, his escalating threats towards his ex-girlfriend including threats to harm or kill her, defendants’ lack of success in defusing the situation through verbal requests, and the concern for the ex-girlfriend’s safety thereby created" constituted exigent circumstances.

We also have a Batson challenge, which alleges that the government used a peremptory challenge to strike an Hispanic juror. The trial court rejected plaintiff's Batson argument on this point, and the Court of Appeals rules the district court's determination was not an abuse of discretion. It seems the government struck the only Hispanic juror from the panel. The government said it did so because the potential juror's son was arrested. But, plaintiff notes, the government did not strike a white juror whose son "had a similar life experience that may have created bias against police." What was the difference between the Hispanic and white juror that allowed the district court to credit the government's claim that it struck the Hispanic juror for legitimate reasons?

Defendants’ counsel explained to the District Court that he struck the minority panelist because, unlike the Caucasian panelist, the minority panelist seemed to believe that his son’s arrest was not legitimate, and the District Court credited that explanation. More specifically, in reporting that his son was arrested for breaking and entering, the minority panelist made statements suggesting that he doubted the validity of the charge and might have taken the arrest personally, including: “I realized you can’t walk through a door even though it was open,” “[w]e couldn’t prove it or disprove it,” “[w]e had to make restitution,” and, with regard to that restitution, that “Dad [paid.]” By contrast, the Caucasian panelist stated that his son had been arrested several times because his son had a drug problem that had been going on for years. He noted that, though he was initially upset by a warrantless entry onto his property to speak with his son, he later understood the actions of the officers in the context of his son’s drug problems.
That distinction between the jurors -- the Hispanic juror was still angry over his son's arrest and the white juror is no longer upset -- was enough for the trial court to find the government did not offer a noncredible reason in striking the Hispanic juror.

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