The very entry of law enforcement officers into a private residence is a search under the Fourth Amendment as seen in State v. Barnes where the court held that an intrusion into a home is a search under the Fourth Amendment because “physical entry of a home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.”. State v. Barnes, 158 N.C. 606, 610 (2003). Furthermore, the court noted that “with few exceptions, the question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no.” Id.
A search which is based on exigency must be “strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justified its initiation.” State V.Gerogieos. Here, the decision was made that “ a generalized interest in expedient law enforcement cannot, without more, justify a warrantless search.” State V.Gerogieos, 126 S. Ct. 1515, 1523 n.3 (2006)
Examples that are provided of exigent circumstances or “exigency,” include hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect and preventing imminent harm to a law enforcement officer. Id. at 1524 n.6.
North Carolina evaluates whether exigent circumstances exist to justify a warrantless search by using the totality of the circumstances test. In State v. Worsley, where the court held that exigent circumstances existed where eyewitnesses to a murder had identified the defendant as the specific killer, and another witness stated he saw the defendant running to his apartment shortly after the murder. Id. The police department stated they fresh blood was found on the doorknob of defendant’s door and officers knocked loudly on door and announced themselves without any response).State v.Worsley, 336 N.C. 268 (1994)
In order to justify a “warrantless entry” into a residence both probable cause and exigent circumstances which would warrant an exception to the warrant requirement must be present. State v. Wallace, 111 N.C. App. 581 (1993). The court here found that the exigency exception “may apply if officers are responding to an emergency and where there is a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant;” however the burden rests with the State to prove the existence of exigent circumstances. Id. It stated that circumstances which may be sufficient to qualify as exigent include an officer’s objective, there must be a “reasonable belief that evidence will be destroyed before being able to obtain a warrant.” However, in State v. Nowell, the court held that exigent circumstances did not exist to justify warrantless entry into private residence where officers did not have a reasonably objective belief that evidence was about to be removed or destroyed. State v. Nowell, 144 N.C. App. 636 (2001).
The difference between the two cases ultimately rests on the difference whether or not exigent circumstances, or ” an emergencency situation” exists on whether or not a warrantless search will be permitted.
If you have been involved in a situation where you feel as though there has been a warrantless search or seizure conducted on you, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Robert. J. Reeves, P.C. toll-free at 877-374-5999 toll-free fore more information on your options.