This article was published in the Daily Journal today. Patrick Santos from my office did a great job on this case with me. We hope to use it in another case we have pending before the Court of Appeal, Second District, presently.
Unwarranted Search Legal, Court
By Laura Ernde
Police acted lawfully when they burst into a Sacramento County man’s locked
bedroom without a warrant and found marijuana, a divided state Supreme Court ruled
Faced with a chaotic crime scene, including a shooting victim lying on a porch, police
had good reason to believe there might be more victims inside the house. As a result,
police were covered by the emergency-aid exception to the Fourth Amendment’s
protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the court ruled 5-2. People v.
Troyer, 2011 DJDAR 2726.
“The possibility that immediate police action will prevent injury or death outweighs
the affront to privacy when police enter the home under the reasonable but mistaken
belief that an emergency exists,” Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote for the majority.
Although defendant Albert Troyer lost the appeal, the ruling might help other
defendants in search and seizure cases because of the standard the high court adopted
in making the decision, one defense lawyer said.
Trial court judges evaluating police searches must look at whether police had an
objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an emergency, said Ronald Richards of
Ronald Richards & Associates, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
In People v. Ray (1999) 21 Cal.4th 464, former Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers
Brown had suggested that an officer’s state of mind factored into the analysis. Under
that standard, police could justify conducting an emergency-aid search without a
warrant when there was any possibility of danger.
“It was a bad standard. If the officer had good motives, even though there was no
objective basis, this was giving the state wiggle room,” said Richards, who represents a
defendant with a Fourth Amendment claim at the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
With Tuesday’s decision, the state high court officially adopted the objective standard
outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brigham City v. Stuart (2006) 547 U.S. 398.
Deputy Attorney General Doris A. Calandra, who represented the prosecution on
appeal, did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.
The justices were at odds over whether the search was lawful, even under the
In a dissent, Justice Joyce L. Kennard said the officers did not have good reason to
barge through the defendant’s bedroom door.
“Because the police found no trace of blood inside the house, observed no sign of
disturbance or struggle, and heard no sounds coming from inside the bedroom after
knocking and announcing their presence, the possibility that a wounded gunshot victim
was inside that room was too remote and speculative to justify the forced entry into the
bedroom,” Kennard wrote. Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who is stepping down at the end
of the month, also signed the dissent.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 unpublished opinion, found that the search
was illegal and that Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Laurie M. Earl should
have excluded the drug evidence against Troyer.
The state Supreme Court reversed Tuesday with the assistance of former Chief
Justice Ronald M. George, who was sitting by assignment. George heard oral argument
in the case before he retired in December.
Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar agreed with the majority that the search was legal,
but wrote separately to say that the officers were justified because the locked bedroom
door presented a risk to their own safety, which is somewhat different than the
“We cannot reasonably demand that officers called to the scene of a shooting, where
they cannot be sure of the number or whereabouts of the armed assailants, proceed to
assist victims and investigate the crime scene without securing themselves, witnesses,
and others present against ambush from a nearby hiding place,” Werdegar wrote.
Troyer’s appointed attorney, San Francisco sole practitioner J. Wilder Lee, said he is
considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
“I don’t think it’s the last word on the emergency-aid exception,” he said.