The Court of Appeals in Ball v. U.S. decided on May 24, 2018, narrowly affirmed weapons’ conviction under the exigent exception to warrantless search under the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The trial court had dismissed motion to suppress the evidence based on illegal search and seize paving the way to a conviction.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under certain emergency and exigent circumstances allow an officer to enter a dwelling without a warrant if the officer has an objectively reasonable basis for believing that:

  • The entry is necessary to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant, or
  • To protect an occupant from imminent injury.

This warrantless exception known also as the emergency aid exception only requires an objectively and articulable reasonable basis for believing an individual within the dwelling is in need of immediate aid and thus such emergency requires entry into the dwelling dispensing with the 4th Amendment warrant requirements.

Factually, the police Officers had responded to a 911 call in the early morning hours from a tenant in the building reporting that there was a woman yelling and screaming from a unit in the building.

Upon arriving at the building, the caller was there to corroborate and the Officers could still hear disturbance from the unit. Upon knocking on the door, a female subject opened the door and looked distressed and did not respond to the Officers as what was the cause of noise and yelling, she simply opened the door wider where the Officers were able to observe another female on the ground getting dressed.

Upon entering, the defendant reached out toward a couch to grab something that was later recovered as a weapon. Search incident to the arrest also recovered bags of marijuana. Weapon and drug charges ensued and upon trial court conviction on the weapons’ charges, this appeal ensued.

The Court of Appeals highlighted five reasons in affirming the conviction as to why the exigent exception to the warrantless searches was appropriate here:

  • There was a verified 911 call to a situation involving ongoing physical violence.
  • The caller corroborated and met the Officer at the scene and directed the Officers to the Apt. The caller’s reliability was enhanced through corroboration at the scene.
  • The Officers further independently corroborated the information when the Officers went to the second floor and heard yelling coming from appellant‘s apartment, including a woman who sounded as if she were yelling in pain.
  • Upon knocking on the door first no one answered and then the female subject who opened the door appeared to be panicked and concerned.
  • She did not respond to the police Officers’ questions further raising suspicion and in turn suspiciously opened the door wide before the Officers entered the apartment.

The dissenting Jurists argued that this was not enough to give rise to the emergency aid or the exigent circumstances dispensing with the warrant requirement. That generally there has to be witnessing of physical injury before entry to a premises can be legally justified.

The majority here seemed to expand incrementally the totality of circumstances needed to justify an exigent exception while ebbing away the 4th Amendment protection from the unreasonable search and seizures.

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