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Emergency Circumstance, Police Responses, and Fourth Amendment Restrictions

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 89 Issue: 2 Dated: Winter 1999 Pages: 433-534
John F. Deckere
Date Published
102 pages
This article examines police response to an emergency situation where there was an inadvertent discovery of evidence of a crime, evidence of criminality seized as a result, and defense challenges of evidence based on fourth amendment grounds.
This article was written with the intent to shed some light on police activity specifically, where police act in response to an emergency, under their community caretaking functions (not their law enforcement functions). In law enforcement functions, where a search and seizure is evaluated by probable cause, whether the police had a warrant, or whether an exception to the fourth amendment was applicable, the community caretaking doctrine is only concerned with an emergency where police act to protect human life or substantial property interests from an immediate threat. Emergency implies that there is no time to get a judicial warrant and police must act quickly. A three-prong test is proposed which might aid courts in their determination of whether an emergency existed, so that it can be determined whether police were acting within their legitimate community caretaking functions. First, a police officer must reasonably believe his or her assistance was needed immediately to protect human life or substantial property interests. Second, the officer’s acts must be based, at least in part, on a subjective motivation to aid or protect life or property. Third, the police action in question must fall within the scope of the emergency, both in terms of the area to be searched and subsequent entries. This approach has actually been in existence for more than 20 years, but has not been utilized in a majority of jurisdictions. This approach could be a helpful tool in evaluating the emergency doctrine and illuminate one area of the fourth amendment jurisprudence.