Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Evacuation, No Exigent Circumstances

US v. Yengel: Officers were called to Yengel's home during a domestic dispute.  He was arrested without incident outside the home, although he was upset and agitated.  Notably, he wasn't armed.  Yengel's wife told officers that there were guns in the house as well as a grenade in a locked closet in an upstairs bedroom.  Officers seized the guns.  As for the grenade, the wife showed an officer the closet in which it was kept, which was locked with both an electronic keypad and thumbprint scanner.  Yengel's wife didn't know the combination and lacked the correct thumbprint to open it.  After several hours the door was pried open and the "grenade" - actually a collection of gunpowder and other materials that could be assembled into a "firearm" - was seized.  All this was done without a warrant and without the house being evacuated, including leaving Yengel's sleeping infant son remain in the bedroom next to the one with the "grenade."

Yengel was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm (the "grenade").  He moved to suppress that evidence, arguing that the seizure was done without a warrant and not pursuant to any of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.  The district court agreed, concluding that exigent circumstances weren't present when the closet door was pried open.  On a Government appeal the Fourth Circuit agreed and affirmed the suppression.  Noting that the person making the entry/search in an exigent circumstances case must objectively believe that such an exigency exists, the court concluded that the officer's actions showed he did not have such an objective belief.  Most notably, in spite of being in pursuit of an explosive device, the officer did not clear the house or the surrounding area before attempting to retrieve it.

Congrats to defender office in the ED Virginia on the win!  Both of 'em!

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