Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 51 Cal. 4th 599, 246 P.3d 901, 120 Cal. Rptr. 3d 770

People v. Troyer

Filed 2/22/11

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S180759
v.
Ct.App. 3 C059889
ALBERT TROYER,
Sacramento County
Defendant and Appellant.
Super. Ct. No. 07F06029

―[T]he ‗physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the
wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.‘ ‖ (Payton v. New York (1980) 445
U.S. 573, 585.) Thus, ―searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are
presumptively unreasonable.‖ (Id. at p. 586.) ―Nevertheless, because the ultimate
touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‗reasonableness,‘ the warrant requirement
is subject to certain exceptions.‖ (Brigham City v. Stuart (2006) 547 U.S. 398,
403.) In particular, ―law enforcement officers may enter a home without a warrant
to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant
from imminent injury.‖ (Ibid.)
In this case, both the trial court and the Court of Appeal found the record
sufficient under the emergency aid exception to justify a warrantless entry by
police into a residence to search for additional victims of a recent shooting. The
Court of Appeal, however, reversed the judgment because it found the police erred
in entering a locked upstairs bedroom, where marijuana, related paraphernalia, and
1


firearms were found in plain view. Because the police did not need ―ironclad
proof of ‗a likely serious, life-threatening‘ injury to invoke the emergency aid
exception‖ to the warrant requirement in order to enter the bedroom but merely
― ‗an objectively reasonable basis for believing‘ that medical assistance was
needed, or persons were in danger‖ (Michigan v. Fisher (2009) 558 U.S. ___, ___
[130 S.Ct. 546, 549] (per curiam)), we reverse the Court of Appeal.
BACKGROUND
This was the situation confronting Elk Grove Police Department Sergeant
Tim Albright, a 15-year veteran, on June 6, 2007, according to the testimony
elicited at the hearing on defendant‘s motion to suppress:
At 12:18 p.m., police dispatch broadcast a report of shots fired at 9253 Gem
Crest Way in Elk Grove. An unidentified male had ―possibly been shot twice,‖
and the suspects were driving ―a two-door Chevrolet product.‖ Sergeant Albright,
the first officer to respond, arrived at the scene at 12:20 p.m., but he was in
plainclothes and an unmarked vehicle. The suspects‘ vehicle was nowhere in
sight, so Albright approached the front porch of the residence, where a 40-year-old
White male was administering first aid to a female victim (later identified as Mia
Zapata) who had been shot multiple times. A Hispanic male, later identified as
Adrien Abeyta, was also on the porch. He had a wound on the top of his head, and
blood was streaming onto his face and T-shirt.
Zapata was in obvious distress and ―an altered level of consciousness.‖ She
was not able to provide information to the officer. Albright turned to Abeyta to
find out what had happened, but it was difficult to get information from him
because he, too, was excited and agitated. Abeyta did say that two individuals
were involved, a White male and a Black male, and that they had fled westbound
in a blue or black two-door Chevrolet Tahoe.
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Albright noticed there was blood on the front door—smudge marks and
blood droplets in multiple areas, including ―near the handle side of the door.‖ This
indicated to him that a bleeding victim had come into contact with that door ―at
some point,‖ either by entering or exiting the house, so he asked Abeyta whether
anyone was inside. Abeyta stared at the officer for 15 or 20 seconds but did not
respond. When Albright repeated the question, Abeyta stared at him again but
eventually said that he ―did not think so.‖ Needing clarification, Albright asked
the question for a third time. Abeyta took a ―long‖ pause to stare at the officer and
then said ―no.‖
The situation was ―[v]ery chaotic.‖ Zapata was screaming and asking for
water over and over, and Albright was attempting to direct the citizen in providing
first aid. Abeyta, too, was in an excitable state and was yelling and screaming for
medical personnel. Sirens announced the arrival of both fire trucks and patrol
vehicles. In the midst of this, Albright was concerned that Abeyta‘s eventual
response that no one was inside the house was untruthful or, because of his head
injury, inaccurate, and therefore was worried that there might be additional
victims—or even additional suspects—inside. But the window blinds were closed,
and, with all the noise, Albright could not focus on whether there were any sounds
coming from inside the residence. Under these circumstances, Albright decided
that he had a responsibility to verify whether there were additional victims or
suspects in the house.
Albright asked Abeyta whether the keys attached to a lanyard in his hand
were to the residence and explained the urgency in locating potential victims or
suspects inside. Abeyta replied that the keys were to the residence, but declined to
give permission to enter the house. When Albright warned him that the officers
would otherwise have to kick in the door, Abeyta unlocked it. After announcing
their presence (and hearing no response), a team of uniformed peace officers
3
entered the house to look for victims and suspects. After clearing the downstairs,
the officers headed upstairs, continuing to look in places where a body could be.
Officer Samuel Seo approached a locked bedroom door. He announced his
presence outside the door and, hearing no response, kicked the door open. Seo
immediately smelled a strong odor of marijuana and observed an electronic scale
and quarter-size balls of the drug. After verifying there was no one in the house,
Seo relayed his observations to Detective Mark Bearor, who prepared an affidavit
for a search warrant. The warranted search uncovered additional marijuana; a live
marijuana plant; two semiautomatic pistols, a shotgun, a Winchester rifle, and
ammunition; over $9,000 in cash; and indicia linking defendant Albert Troyer to
the residence.
The parties stipulated that defendant, who was not home at the time of the
search, had standing to challenge the police entry into and search of the residence.
Following the hearing, the superior court denied the motion to suppress.
Defendant then pleaded no contest to unlawful possession of marijuana for sale
and unauthorized cultivation of marijuana, and admitted arming enhancements for
both offenses. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11358, 11359; Pen. Code, § 12022, subd.
(a)(1).) The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed defendant on
probation for five years on the condition he serve one year in jail.
A divided panel of the Court of Appeal reversed and directed the trial court
to enter an order granting the motion to suppress. The majority reasoned that
although the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement justified the
initial entry into the residence, it did not justify entry into the locked upstairs
bedroom because ―there were insufficient facts for the officers to reasonably
believe there was somebody inside the locked upstairs bedroom who was seriously
injured or imminently threatened with such injury.‖ The majority also found that
the entry could not be justified as a protective sweep under Maryland v. Buie
4
(1990) 494 U.S. 325, in that there were insufficient facts to justify a reasonable
belief ―there were dangerous people inside the house, let alone inside the locked
upstairs bedroom.‖ Justice Nicholson, dissenting, argued that the justification for
the initial entry into the locked house under the emergency aid exception also
justified entry into the locked bedroom and cautioned: ―That, in hindsight, no
other victim was found in the residence may make it more comfortable to find a
violation of the Fourth Amendment, but it did not make the search less
reasonable.‖
We granted the People‘s petition for review.
DISCUSSION
In California, issues relating to the suppression of evidence derived from
governmental searches and seizures are reviewed under federal constitutional
standards. (People v. Rogers (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1136, 1156, fn. 8.) Defendant
contends that the police entry into his home was an unreasonable search under the
Fourth Amendment. Because a warrantless entry into a home is presumptively
unreasonable, the government bears the burden of establishing that exigent
circumstances or another exception to the warrant requirement justified the entry.
(Rogers, at p. 1156.)
The parties agree that ―police may enter a home without a warrant when
they have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant is
seriously injured or imminently threatened with such injury.‖ (Brigham City v.
Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. at p. 400.) ― ‗The need to protect or preserve life or avoid
serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an
exigency or emergency.‘ ‖ (Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385, 392.)
― ‗ ―There is no ready litmus test for determining whether such circumstances
exist, and in each case the claim of an extraordinary situation must be measured by
the facts known to the officers.‖ ‘ ‖ (People v. Panah (2005) 35 Cal.4th 395, 465.)
5
On appeal, we uphold the trial court‘s factual findings if they are supported by
substantial evidence, but review independently its determination that the search
did not violate the Fourth Amendment. (People v. Rogers, supra, 46 Cal.4th at p.
1157.)
The ― ‗emergency aid exception‘ ‖ to the warrant requirement ―does not
depend on the officers‘ subjective intent or the seriousness of any crime they are
investigating when the emergency arises.‖ (Michigan v. Fisher, supra, 558 U.S. at
p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 548].) Rather, the exception ―requires only ‗an objectively
reasonable basis for believing‘ [citation] that ‗a person within [the house] is in
need of immediate aid.‘ ‖ (Ibid.) ―We are to approach the Fourth Amendment . . .
with at least some measure of pragmatism. If there is a grave public need for the
police to take preventive action, the Constitution may impose limits, but it will not
bar the way.‖ (Mora v. City of Gaithersburg (4th Cir. 2008) 519 F.3d 216, 222.)
Defendant would impose one further requirement. In his view, the
objectively reasonable basis for a warrantless entry under the emergency aid
exception must be established by proof amounting to ―probable cause,‖ which is
defined as ― ‗a reasonable ground for belief of guilt‘ ‖ that is ―particularized with
respect to the person to be searched or seized.‖ (Maryland v. Pringle (2003) 540
U.S. 366, 371.) Defendant cites no high court authority grafting such a standard
onto the emergency aid exception. Nor does the importation of a concept
governing police officers ―engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting
out crime‖ (Arizona v. Evans (1995) 514 U.S. 1, 15) make sense under the
emergency aid exception, where the police must make split-second decisions as to
whether someone is in need of immediate aid, not whether someone could be
arrested for a crime. (People v. Ray (1999) 21 Cal.4th 464, 475 (lead opn. of
Brown, J.) [finding the probable cause standard is ―inappropriate‖ in assessing the
police function of aiding persons in need of assistance]; accord, Ortiz v. State
6
(Fla.Dist.Ct.App. 2009) 24 So.3d 596, 606 (conc. opn. of Torpy, J.) [―When a
search is noncriminal in purpose, . . . criminal concepts are not helpful in making
the determination of reasonableness‖]; State v. Carlson (Iowa 1996) 548 N.W.2d
138, 142.) As then Circuit Judge Warren Burger explained, ―the business of
policemen and firemen is to act, not to speculate or meditate on whether the report
is correct. People could well die in emergencies if police tried to act with the calm
deliberation associated with the judicial process.‖ (Wayne v. United States (D.C.
Cir. 1963) 318 F.2d 205, 212 (conc. opn. of Burger, J.), quoted in Tamborino v.
Superior Court (1986) 41 Cal.3d 919, 924, fn. 2.)
Thus, when we balance the nature of the intrusion on an individual‘s
privacy against the promotion of legitimate governmental interests in order to
determine the reasonableness of a search in the circumstances of an emergency
(Delaware v. Prouse (1979) 440 U.S. 648, 654), we must be mindful of what is at
stake. 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. (U.S. v. Snipe (9th Cir. 2008) 515
F.3d 947, 954.) Indeed, the high court has already held that as to a ― ‗protective
sweep‘ ‖—an analogous circumstance in which police search a residence to locate
―anyone inside who might endanger their safety‖ (People v. Celis (2004) 33
Cal.4th 667, 671, citing Maryland v. Buie, supra, 494 U.S. 325)—―the probable
cause standard did not apply.‖ (Celis, at p. 677.)
Accordingly, some courts have held that any probable cause requirement is
automatically satisfied whenever there is an objectively reasonable basis for
believing that an occupant is in need of emergency aid. (E.g., U.S. v. Snipe, supra,
515 F.3d at p. 952; U.S. v. Holloway (11th Cir. 2002) 290 F.3d 1331, 1338; Koch
v. Brattleboro (2d Cir. 2002) 287 F.3d 162, 169; McNeil v. City of Easton (E.D.Pa.
2010) 694 F.Supp.2d 375, 388-389; see also State v. Meeks (Tenn. 2008) 262
7
S.W.3d 710, 726, fn. 31.) Other courts have reasoned that the concept of probable
cause simply has no role in the analysis of a warrantless entry into a residence
under the emergency aid exception. (E.g., Wofford v. State (Ark. 1997) 952
S.W.2d 646, 652; People v. Allison (Colo. 2004) 86 P.3d 421, 427; State v. Fausel
(Conn. 2010) 993 A.2d 455, 461-462; State v. Carlson, supra, 548 N.W.2d at p.
142; State v. Alexander (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 1998) 721 A.2d 275, 286; Hannon v.
State (Nev. 2009) 207 P.3d 344, 346; Duquette v. Godbout (R.I. 1984) 471 A.2d
1359, 1362; State v. Deneui (S.D. 2009) 775 N.W.2d 221, 230; State v. Comer
(Utah 2002) 51 P.3d 55, 62; see also Armijo v. Peterson (10th Cir. 2010) 601 F.3d
1065, 1075; U.S. v. Quezada (8th Cir. 2006) 448 F.3d 1005, 1007.) We decline to
resolve here what appears to be a debate over semantics. Under either approach,
and in light of the fact that ―the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is
‗reasonableness,‘ ‖ our task is to determine whether there was an objectively
reasonable basis for believing that an occupant was seriously injured or threatened
with such injury. (Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. at p. 403; cf. Graham
v. Connor (1989) 490 U.S. 386, 397 [claim of excessive force depends on
―whether the officers‘ actions are ‗objectively reasonable‘ in light of the facts and
circumstances confronting them‖]; People v. Jenkins (2000) 22 Cal.4th 900, 974
[where the state seeks to justify a warrantless search by relying upon the consent
of a third party, ―the state may carry its burden by demonstrating that it was
objectively reasonable for the searching officer to believe that the person giving
consent had authority to do so‖].)
The record amply supported an objectively reasonable belief that one or
more shooting victims could be inside the house. Police dispatch stated that shots
had just been fired ―at‖ 9253 Gem Crest Way, and, indeed, Sergeant Albright‘s
observations of the blood at the scene indicated that a shooting had occurred
―mere feet [from] or within the doorway area.‖ Bloodstains on the door signaled
8
that a bleeding victim had come into contact with the door, either by entering or by
exiting the residence. (See People v. Rodriguez (N.Y.App.Div. 2010) 907
N.Y.S.2d 294, 301 [blood on the landing in front of the apartment and on the door
constituted ―some reasonable basis . . . to associate the emergency with the inside
of apartment 3L‖].)
Moreover, the original dispatch report stated that a male victim had
―possibly been shot twice‖—and no such victim had yet been located. Sergeant
Albright harbored ―concern‖ about Abeyta, who had suffered a head injury and
was bleeding, but the officer never stated that he observed any gunshot wounds on
Abeyta or that he had concluded Abeyta must have been the man described in the
dispatch report. In any event, a concern that Abeyta might have suffered a
gunshot wound did not foreclose the reasonable possibility that the male victim
described in the original dispatch was still at large. (Causey v. City of Bay City
(6th Cir. 2006) 442 F.3d 524, 530 [despite the plaintiffs‘ assurances that no one
was injured, it was ― ‗equally plausible and not unreasonable‘ ‖ for the officers to
infer that the plaintiffs were concealing an injured victim or were being
intimidated by an unseen attacker]; U.S. v. Leveringston (8th Cir. 2005) 397 F.3d
1112, 1117 [noting that while blood on the defendant‘s shirt could have been his
own, a reasonable officer could also have inferred that another party had been
injured after some sort of struggle with the defendant]; see generally Michigan v.
Fisher, supra, 558 U.S. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 549] [―the test, as we have said,
is not what [the officer] believed, but whether there was ‗an objectively reasonable
basis for believing‘ that medical assistance was needed, or persons were in
danger‖].)
Sergeant Albright asked Abeyta whether there was anyone inside the
residence, but Abeyta‘s inconsistent answers raised serious concerns about his
ability to give accurate and reliable responses. (People v. Poulson (1998) 69
9
Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 6; State v. Carlson, supra, 548 N.W.2d at p. 143 [―The
situation clearly remained sufficiently ambiguous to warrant further inquiry‖];
State v. Frankel (N.J. 2004) 847 A.2d 561, 574 [―The responding police officer is
not required to accept blindly the explanation for the 9-1-1 call offered by the
resident answering the door‖]; People v. Rodriguez, supra, 907 N.Y.S.2d at pp.
298-299; see generally U.S. v. Russell (9th Cir. 2006) 436 F.3d 1086, 1090
[―Given the substantial confusion and conflicting information, the police were
justified in searching the house in order to determine whether there were other
injured persons‖].) The first time Albright asked whether anyone was inside the
house, Abeyta just stared at Albright for 15 to 20 seconds and failed to respond.
The second time, Abeyta continued to stare at the officer and eventually said he
―did not think so.‖ The third time, Abeyta paused for a ―long‖ time, stared at the
officer, and then said ―no.‖ Because the window blinds were closed, Albright
could not peek inside to verify whether Abeyta‘s final answer was the correct one,
nor, given the chaos at the scene, could he hear whether any sounds were coming
from inside the residence. Under these circumstances, and inasmuch as Albright
did not know who lived at the residence or who had been the aggressor, an
objectively reasonable basis existed to enter the residence to search for additional
victims.
The police entry here was no less justifiable than the police reentry into the
apartment in Tamborino v. Superior Court, supra, 41 Cal.3d 919 (Tamborino). In
Tamborino, police responded to a reported robbery at a particular address, and a
neighbor confirmed that an injured person was inside the apartment. After
receiving no response to his loud knock and announcement of his presence, the
officer kicked in the door and found Tamborino, who seemed to be bleeding from
the right side of his face, with ―quite a bit of blood on his head, neck and hands.‖
(Id. at p. 922.) The officer, unsure whether Tamborino was a suspect or a victim,
10
brought Tamborino out of the apartment and handcuffed him. The officer
immediately reentered the apartment, based on his concern that there might be
other injured persons inside, without even asking Tamborino whether anyone else
was there. As he walked through the apartment, the officer found cocaine residue,
marijuana, and some narcotics paraphernalia in plain view. (Ibid.)
In rejecting a challenge to the officer‘s reentry into the apartment, we
explained that ―the observation of Tamborino, wounded and bleeding, coupled
with the earlier report of a robbery, constituted ‗articulable facts‘ that reasonably
could have led the officer to decide that an immediate, brief search of the
apartment was warranted to determine whether additional persons were present at
the crime scene. Officer Klein had no prior information indicating that only one
victim was involved in the robbery, and in light of the situation he confronted,
ordinary, routine common sense and a reasonable concern for human life justified
him in conducting a walk-through search truly limited in scope to determining the
presence of other victims.‖ (Tamborino, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p. 923.) Invoking the
general rule set forth in Mincey v. Arizona, supra, 437 U.S. at page 392, that
― ‗when the police come upon the scene of a homicide they may make a prompt
warrantless search of the area to see if there are other victims or if a killer is still
on the premises,‘ ‖ we concluded that ―comparable principles would govern a
search of the scene of a robbery involving a wounded victim‖ and, thus, that ―the
discovery of one wounded victim afforded reasonable cause to enter and briefly
search for additional victims‖ in that case. (Tamborino, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p.
924; see People v. Hill (1974) 12 Cal.3d 731, 755 [―Although only one casualty
had thus far been reported, others may have been injured and may have been
abandoned on the premises‖; therefore, ―it was reasonable for the officers to
believe that the shooting may have resulted in other casualties in addition to that
reported to the police and that an immediate entry was necessary to render aid to
11
anyone in distress‖], overruled on other grounds in People v. DeVaughn (1977) 18
Cal.3d 889, 896, fn. 5; see generally 3 LaFave, Search and Seizure (4th ed. 2004)
§ 6.6(a), p. 457 [―courts have upheld entry to search for possible victims in
premises where shots have been fired‖].)
The out-of-state cases on which defendant relies, which rejected application
of the emergency aid exception in the particular circumstances presented, are
distinguishable and, in any event, not binding on us.
In Hannon v. State, supra, 207 P.3d 344, police responded to a neighbor‘s
call reporting a possible domestic disturbance 45 minutes after the argument had
ended. When police arrived at the ―quiet apartment‖ (id. at p. 348), the girlfriend
was ―red-faced, crying, and breathing hard,‖ and the boyfriend ―appeared to be
flushed and ‗angry.‘ ‖ Both parties stated that they were unharmed and that
nobody else was there. Although the officer was twice denied entry, he
nonetheless pushed his way in and discovered marijuana and assorted
paraphernalia in the living room and kitchen. At the hearing on the motion to
suppress, the officer ―admitted that ‗[he] didn‘t have evidence‘ that another
occupant may have been inside who needed emergency assistance, he ‗just had
suspicions.‘ ‖ (Id. at p. 345.) In reversing the denial of the motion to suppress, the
Supreme Court of Nevada emphasized that the possible domestic disturbance
―seemed to have already dissipated,‖ there was ―no apparent need for swift
action,‖ neither occupant ―exhibited observable signs of injury,‖ and the officer
―had even less reason to believe that Hannon‘s apartment may have harbored an
unidentified third person in need of emergency assistance.‖ (Id. at pp. 347-348.)
Here, by contrast, the police arrived minutes after a reported shooting to find one
victim with gunshot wounds, another bleeding heavily from a head wound, blood
on the door indicating an injured victim had entered or exited the residence, a
report of a male shooting victim at that address who may still have been
12
unaccounted for, and evasive or unreliable responses from Abeyta as to whether
anyone inside needed assistance.
Defendant relies also on People v. Allison, supra, 86 P.3d 421 (Allison),
which interpreted the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment to
require that ―[t]he officer‘s primary purpose must be to render emergency
assistance, not to search for evidence‖ (Allison, supra, at p. 426) and which upheld
the trial court‘s suppression order on the ground that the officer‘s reentry into the
residence was motivated by a desire ―to conduct a criminal investigation, not to
render emergency assistance.‖ (Id. at p. 428.) The high court, however, has since
rejected any inquiry into an officer‘s subjective motivation. (Brigham City v.
Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. at pp. 404-405.)
We find, moreover, that Allison tends to support the police entry here.
When the officer arrived at the residence after a 911 hang-up call, Mrs. Allison
came to the door nervous, out of breath, and with blood on or around her nose.
She claimed she had had an accident but was ― ‗okay‘ ‖ and denied that anyone
else was in the house, even though she continuously glanced over her shoulder to
look back inside the home, and denied having been in an altercation. Eventually,
Mrs. Allison admitted ―that she was in a fight with her husband‖ (Allison, supra,
86 P.3d at p. 423) but repeated that no one was inside. After a long discussion,
Mrs. Allison let the officer come inside. All parties agreed with the trial court that
this initial entry was justified by consent or the emergency aid exception. (Ibid.)
Similarly, here, the report of a shooting at this address, the presence of at least one
shooting victim, and Abeyta‘s inconsistent and unreliable responses as to the
existence of additional victims inside the house justified the entry into the
residence.
In Allison, only the second and third entries into the house, once Mr.
Allison (who had a swollen and bloody lip) and his wife had been removed from
13
the residence, were deemed improper, inasmuch as the police saw ―no evidence
that a violent incident potentially endangering third persons had occurred.‖
(Allison, supra, 86 P.3d at p. 429.) Mr. Allison‘s mere uncertainty as to whether a
man who lived upstairs was at home at the time was not sufficient to create an
emergency; ―[w]hile domestic disputes can involve third parties and present a
danger to children, the police here had no indication that children were involved or
that any third party might have participated in the dispute and needed emergency
assistance.‖ (Id. at p. 427.) In this case, on the other hand, the nature of the crime,
the presence of blood on the door, the unaccounted-for male shooting victim, and
Abeyta‘s conflicting and unreliable answers about additional victims constituted
specific and articulable facts that reasonably could have led the officer to believe
someone inside ―might need help.‖ (Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. at p.
406; see also Moulton v. State (Wyo. 2006) 148 P.3d 38, 45-46 [distinguishing
Allison]; People v. Souva (Colo.Ct.App. 2005) 141 P.3d 845, 849 [same].)
The Court of Appeal below agreed that the entry into the residence was
justified, but the panel majority concluded that the scope of the search (i.e., the
entry into the locked upstairs bedroom) was not. The majority reasoned that
―[o]nce the officers entered, . . . they did not see anything that attracted their
attention. It did not appear any struggle had taken place in the house, and they did
not see any blood, even though they were looking for it. . . . Although the facts
known to the officers justified the initial entry into the house, and assuming for the
sake of argument that they justified a search of the upper floor as well as the lower
floor (despite the lack of any blood except on the front door), the facts known to
the officers did not justify kicking in the locked door to an upstairs bedroom to
look for additional victims because the facts did not support an objectively
reasonable belief that there was a person within the locked bedroom who was in
need of immediate aid.‖
14
We disagree and find that the scope of the search was reasonable. The
scope of a warrantless search ―must be ‗strictly circumscribed by the exigencies
which justify its initiation.‘ ‖ (Mincey v. Arizona, supra, 437 U.S. at p. 393.)
Here, the same facts that justified entry into the residence justified a search of
places where a victim could be, which included the upstairs bedroom. The male
shooting victim, who reportedly had been shot twice at this address, was
apparently unaccounted for—although it was unlikely that he would have gone far.
Moreover, there was blood on the front door, indicating an injured victim had
come in contact with it while entering or exiting the residence. Officer Seo‘s
testimony that he did not see any blood on the first floor of the residence did not
negate the objectively reasonable belief that a victim might still have been inside
the house. (Cf. Michigan v. Fisher, supra, 558 U.S. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 549]
[although the police could not see anyone else inside the residence, ―[i]t would be
objectively reasonable to believe that Fisher‘s projectiles might have a human
target‖].) Seo admitted that he and the other officers were performing only a
―glancing, cursory[-]type‖ search for blood, given that their attention was focused
on discovering ―a body that‘s lying on the floor or someone who‘s injured.‖ A
walk-through search ―truly limited in scope,‖ of course, was proper under the
circumstances (Tamborino, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p. 923), but it does not establish
that there was no blood inside the residence. Even if there were no blood at all, it
would have signaled only that the injured victim did not come in direct contact
with anything on the first floor. Bloodstains, in any event, ―are not prerequisites
to a finding of exigency.‖ (Schreiber v. Moe (6th Cir. 2010) 596 F.3d 323, 331.)
Nor are signs of a struggle in the interior of a residence. When one party is
armed and the other is not, for example, it would not be surprising to find the
unarmed party choosing cooperation over confrontation. Here, there were two
15
male suspects, which offered the possibility that one intruder could have held the
downstairs victims at bay while the other suspect ―cased‖ the upstairs.
Hunsberger v. Wood (4th Cir. 2009) 570 F.3d 546 is instructive. There, the
Fourth Circuit held it was reasonable for the officer (Wood) to enter a home to
protect against vandalism and to locate a missing girl. (Id. at p. 555.) Hunsberger,
like defendant here, argued that the scope of the search was unreasonable, in that
once Wood found no evidence of vandalism on the first floor, he should not have
descended to the basement or gone up to the second floor. The court found this
argument was ―without merit. The fact that there was no evidence of vandalism in
the main living area did not require the conclusion that all was well in the
Hunsberger house. Vandals do not confine their search for valuables to
downstairs rooms, nor do they rule the upstairs out of bounds for hiding or for
inflicting serious harm on others they may happen upon in a house. It is not
surprising, therefore, that plaintiffs do not point to precedent for the proposition
they seek.‖ (Id. at p. 556.) There is likewise no reason to believe that the violent
criminals who perpetrated the shooting here would have ruled the upstairs out of
bounds.
The possibility that the unaccounted-for male victim (or other victims)
could have been in the locked upstairs bedroom was further enhanced by Abeyta‘s
inconsistent and evasive responses to Sergeant Albright‘s inquiries as to whether
anyone was inside the residence. A ―hindsight determination that there was in fact
no emergency‖ does not rebut the objectively reasonable basis for believing that
someone in the house was injured or in danger. (Michigan v. Fisher, supra, 558
U.S. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 549].) In addition, the locked door posed obvious
risks to the officers as they continued their search upstairs, inasmuch as the risk of
danger to an officer conducting a search of a residence is ―as great as, if not
greater than, it is in an on-the-street or roadside investigatory encounter.‖
16
(Maryland v. Buie, supra, 494 U.S. at p. 333.) ―It does not meet the needs of law
enforcement or the demands of public safety to require officers to walk away from
a situation like the one they encountered here.‖ (Michigan v. Fisher, supra, 558
U.S. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 549]; see generally 3 LaFave, Search and Seizure,
supra, § 6.6(a), p. 453 [―the question is whether ‗the officers would have been
derelict in their duty had they acted otherwise‘ ‖]. )
The dissenting opinion characterizes the situation confronting the officers
somewhat differently. In the view of the dissent, it was a ―logical and reasonable
inference‖ that the report of an unidentified male who had ― ‗possibly been shot
twice‘ ‖ was ―mistaken about the gunshot victim‘s gender‖ (dis. opn., post, at pp.
4-5), that the ―likely source‖ of the blood on the door was Abeyta himself (id. at p.
5), and that Abeyta‘s difficulties in responding to the question whether anyone
was inside may have been attributable to Abeyta‘s head wound, the noisy and
chaotic scene, and Abeyta‘s puzzlement over ―the point of [the officer‘s]
question.‖ (Id. at p. 6). We need not quarrel over whether these particular
inferences were reasonable. The People‘s burden under the Fourth Amendment is
to identify an objectively reasonable basis for believing that someone inside was
in need of immediate aid—not to eliminate every other reasonable inference that
might also have been supported by those facts. (See State v. Mielke (Wis.Ct.App.
2002) 653 N.W.2d 316, 319 [―When a police officer is confronted with two
reasonable competing inferences, one that would justify the search and another
that would not, the officer is entitled to rely on the reasonable inference justifying
the search‖].) Moreover, on appeal from the denial of a motion to suppress, we
are bound by the trial court‘s resolution of disputed facts and inferences as well as
its evaluations of credibility, including Sergeant Albright‘s testimony that Abeyta
seemed either untruthful or inaccurate, where (as here) the findings are supported
by substantial evidence. (People v. Zamudio (2008) 43 Cal.4th 327, 342.) The
17
narrative set forth by the dissent thus did not foreclose Sergeant Albright from
reasonably inferring—or the trial court from impliedly finding—that an
unaccounted-for male victim may have smeared blood on the door in entering the
residence, or that Abeyta‘s evasive responses, whether attributable to his gunshot
injury, the chaotic circumstances at the scene, or other (more sinister) reasons,
were unreliable.
Finally, we find that the manner of the police entry was reasonable.
(Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. at pp. 406-407.) Once Abeyta opened the
door, the officers announced their presence and ―called for anybody in the house.‖
Hearing no answer, the officers entered the residence and searched the downstairs
―where a body . . . could be lying.‖ After ―clearing‖ the downstairs, the officers
headed upstairs. Officer Seo found the door to the master bedroom was locked.
Seo knocked on the door and announced his presence but heard no response. Only
then did he kick the door open and find the marijuana and assorted paraphernalia
in plain view. As the dissenting justice pointed out below, this was not a violation
of the Fourth Amendment; it was ―a reasonable and brave execution of law
enforcement duties.‖
18

DISPOSITION
The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed.
BAXTER, J.
WE CONCUR:
CHIN, J.
CORRIGAN, J.
GEORGE, J.*

_____________________________
* Retired Chief Justice of California, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to
article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.
19




CONCURRING OPINION BY WERDEGAR, J.
I agree with the majority that the officers‘ warrantless search was, under the
circumstances, within the scope of discretionary judgment our society expects
police officers to exercise in an emergency or possible emergency. I particularly
agree that the locked bedroom door presented the officers with ―obvious risks‖ to
their own safety, risks they could reasonably decide were too great to ignore.
(Maj. opn., ante, at p. 16.) Reliance on this circumstance does not fit comfortably
within the emergency aid doctrine, as it raises a threat to officer safety rather than
grounds for believing another person is in need of assistance. Nor does it squarely
come within the ―protective sweep‖ doctrine of Maryland v. Buie (1990) 494 U.S.
325, as the search here did not accompany an arrest. Nonetheless, to ignore the
potential risk is difficult or impossible. 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.
I reach this conclusion reluctantly because the warrantless search of a home
invades an interest at the heart of the Fourth Amendment‘s protections and may be
justified only by the most compelling considerations. In the circumstances of the
present case, the need to secure the somewhat chaotic scene of a shooting provided
that justification.
WERDEGAR, J.
1





DISSENTING OPINION BY KENNARD, ACTING C. J.

The majority holds that when the police officers here broke open the locked
door to defendant‘s bedroom, they acted lawfully, without violating the federal
Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and
seizures. I disagree.
I recognize the practical realities that police officers face when, as
happened here, they are called to the scene of a shooting or other criminal
violence. In a highly stressful situation, they must quickly make decisions with
potentially life-or-death consequences, knowing that after-the-fact criticism may
arise no matter what they do. The issue here, however, is controlled by the United
States Supreme Court‘s decisions construing the federal Constitution‘s Fourth
Amendment. (See Gates v. Discovery Communications, Inc. (2004) 34 Cal.4th
679, 692 [on issues of federal constitutional law, United States Supreme Court
decisions are controlling]; People v. Lenart (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1107, 1118 [in
California criminal proceedings, federal constitutional law governs issues related
to the suppression of evidence derived from police searches and seizures].)
Applying those decisions to the facts here, I conclude that the officers‘ challenged
conduct was unlawful.
To determine whether police officers acted lawfully in conducting a search
or seizure, the first step is to consider the facts known to the officers at the time of
their challenged actions, as shown by the evidence presented at the trial court‘s
1


hearing on the defendant‘s motion to suppress evidence. Here, after receiving a
911 emergency call, a police radio dispatcher sent out a message that a shooting
had been reported at a particular address in a residential neighborhood, that an
unidentified male had ―possibly been shot twice,‖ and that the suspects‘ vehicle
was ―a two-door Chevrolet product.‖
Police Sergeant Tim Albright was the first officer to arrive at the scene. On
the front porch of a two-story house, he saw a man, later identified as a neighbor,
giving first aid to a woman, later identified as Mia Zapata, who had been shot
multiple times. On the house‘s front door were blood smears and droplets.
Moving back and forth on the front porch was another man, later identified as
Adrien Abeyta. He had a wound on the top of his head, from which blood
streamed down the back of his head. Blood covered most of his face and also his
T-shirt.
Although agitated and excited, Abeyta gave Sergeant Albright a description
of the persons responsible for his injury and Zapata‘s: A White male and a Black
male who had driven away westbound in a blue or black two-door Chevrolet
Tahoe. While he was talking to Abeyta, Albright was also giving first aid
instructions to the neighbor who was helping Mia Zapata. Albright could not see
into the house, because the blinds were drawn. He heard no sounds coming from
inside. He saw no signs of forced entry, nor did he see bullet holes in the
windows. In response to Sergeant Albright‘s inquiry, Abeyta said there was no
one inside the house.
Abeyta refused Sergeant Albright‘s request for permission to enter the
house, but he unlocked the front door when Albright threatened to force it open.
At Albright‘s direction, four officers entered the house to search for other victims
or suspects. Inside, the officers saw no signs of a struggle and no blood smears or
droplets; they did not see or hear anything indicating that someone was inside. On
2
the second floor, they found that the door to one of the bedrooms, later identified
as defendant‘s, was locked. They knocked and announced their presence. They
heard no sound coming from within the bedroom. The officers then forced open
the bedroom door. There was no one inside.
These facts known to the officers must be considered in light of the
controlling law. The federal Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment provides that
―[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.‖ As the high
court has observed, forced entry into a person‘s home, without adequate
justification, is ―the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth
Amendment is directed.‖ (United States v. United States Dist. Court (1972) 407
U.S. 297, 313.) To guard against that evil, police officers are normally required
obtain a search warrant before they may forcibly enter a home, so that forced entry
without such a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. (Groh v. Ramirez (2004)
540 U.S. 551, 559.) An exception to this warrant requirement applies when the
circumstances indicate that entry is necessary to ― ‗protect and preserve life or
avoid serious injury.‘ ‖ (Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385, 392.) More
precisely, the United States Supreme Court has recently held that this exception,
known as the emergency doctrine, applies when the officers have ―an objectively
reasonable basis for believing‖ that someone inside needs immediate aid.
(Brigham City v. Stuart (2006) 547 U.S. 398, 400; accord, Michigan v. Fisher
(2009) 558 U.S. __, __ [130 S.Ct. 546, 548] (per curiam).)
Applying the law to the facts is the final step in determining the lawfulness
of the police conduct at issue. When the officers broke into defendant‘s locked
upstairs bedroom, did they have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that
someone needing immediate aid was inside that room? No, they did not.
3
The officers had not seen or heard anyone inside the bedroom or even
inside the house. Abeyta, a resident of the house, had told Sergeant Albright that
no one was inside. No one said otherwise. Inside the house, the officers saw no
trace of blood and no sign of any violent activity, and they neither saw nor heard
anything indicating that anyone was present. The officers‘ observations at the
scene indicated that all the violence had occurred outdoors, and nothing they
observed at the scene suggested the presence of any victims other than Abeyta and
Zapata.
To establish the required objectively reasonable basis for believing that a
person needing immediate aid was inside defendant‘s locked, upstairs bedroom,
the majority relies on three circumstances: (1) The radio dispatch call had
mentioned a male gunshot victim, and no such victim had been located (maj. opn.,
ante, at p. 9); (2) Abeyta‘s responses, when asked whether someone was inside,
were ―inconsistent‖ (ibid.); and (3) the residence‘s front door had blood smears
and droplets (id. at pp. 8-9). As I explain, this reasoning is unpersuasive.
Sergeant Albright and the other officers at the scene did not know the
source of the information in the radio dispatch message, which said that shots had
been fired, that an unidentified male had ―possibly been shot twice,‖ and that the
suspects were driving a ―Chevrolet product.‖ The officers could reasonably
assume that the source was someone who had telephoned the police, but whether
that person was an eyewitness to the events described, or merely someone relaying
information provided by a third person, was something the officers did not know.
On the front lawn, Sergeant Albright saw a person with multiple gunshot wounds,
thereby confirming that shots had been fired and that someone had been hit. But
the observed victim was a woman (Mia Zapata), not a man. The dispatcher had
not mentioned a female victim or multiple victims. Under these circumstances,
the logical and reasonable inference was that the unknown person who was the
4
source of the dispatcher‘s information had been mistaken about the gunshot
victim‘s gender. The dispatcher had used the word ―possibly‖ in describing the
shooting victim, and had said that the gunshot victim was ―unidentified,‖ thus
indicating grounds for doubt about the reliability of this aspect of the message.
At the scene, Sergeant Albright did not see or hear anything to suggest
there was a male gunshot victim who had not yet been located, nor did he ask
anyone there whether such a victim existed. The majority asserts that the blood
smears and droplets on the residence‘s front door were indications that a bleeding
victim had entered or exited the residence. But the likely source of that blood was
Abeyta, who was bleeding profusely from head wounds, and who was (as Sergeant
Albright testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress) ―moving back and forth
on a small concrete porch area that was approximately ten feet by four feet.‖
In any event, the issue is not whether entry into the house was justified by
the possibility that there was an additional gunshot victim who had not been
located. Rather, the issue is whether there was ―an objectively reasonable basis‖
(Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. 398, 400) to believe that such a victim
was inside the locked upstairs bedroom. 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.
Unlike the majority, I perceive nothing inconsistent or suspicious in
Abeyta‘s responses when Sergeant Albright asked him whether there was someone
inside the residence. When Albright first posed this question, Abeyta stared at
Albright for 15 to 20 seconds without responding. Albright repeated the question,
and Abeyta answered that he did not believe that there was anybody inside. To
5
clarify, Albright asked the same question yet again, to which Abeyta answered
―no.‖
The two responses that Abeyta gave to Sergeant Albright‘s question were
entirely consistent. The second response, a simple ―no,‖ confirmed his earlier
response that he did not think anyone was inside. Although Abeyta was slow in
responding, this hardly seems surprising or suspicious under the circumstances.
First, Abeyta was agitated and excited, and he was bleeding profusely from a head
wound, which may have compromised his ability to concentrate. Second, Abeyta
may well have been taken aback by the question, inasmuch as the shooting had
occurred outdoors and Abeyta had already told Sergeant Albright that the
perpetrators had driven away in a Chevrolet Tahoe. Notably, Albright did not ask
whether there were any victims other than Abeyta and Zapata, nor did he ask
whether an injured person was inside the house. Abeyta may have hesitated in
responding because he was trying to figure out the point of Albright‘s question.
Third and finally, the scene was noisy and chaotic. Emergency vehicles with
sirens were arriving, while Zapata was screaming and asking for water. Abeyta
may have experienced some difficulty hearing and understanding Albright‘s
question, he may have been waiting for other noises to subside before responding,
or he may have been distracted by the scene unfolding around him.
For all these reasons, I find nothing sinister or evasive in Abeyta‘s brief
pauses before answering Albright‘s question asking whether anyone was inside the
house. Moreover, even if Sergeant Albright had legitimate reasons to doubt the
reliability of Abeyta‘s responses, those doubts at most are grounds for
disregarding Abeyta‘s responses; they did not provide ―an objectively reasonable
basis‖ (Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. 398, 400) for believing that
someone in need of immediate aid was inside the house, much less inside the
locked upstairs bedroom.
6
Considering all the facts known to Sergeant Albright and the other officers
present at the scene, I conclude, as did the Court of Appeal majority, that those
officers lacked an objectively reasonable basis to believe that inside defendant‘s
locked upstairs bedroom was a person needing immediate assistance.
Consequently, the forcible warrantless entry into that bedroom was unlawful under
the federal Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment, as interpreted by the United States
Supreme Court in Michigan v. Fisher, supra, 558 U.S. __, [130 S.Ct. 546], and
Brigham City v. Stuart, supra, 547 U.S. 398. Therefore, the trial court should
have granted defendant‘s motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of
that unlawful entry.
I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
KENNARD, ACTING C. J.
I CONCUR:
MORENO, J.
7
See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Troyer
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion

XXX NP opn. filed 1/27/10 – 3d Dist.
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted

Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S180759
Date Filed: February 22, 2011
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Sacramento
Judge: Laurie M. Earl

__________________________________________________________________________________

Counsel:

J. Wilder Lee, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P.
Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Donald E. DeNicola, Deputy State Solicitor General, David A. Rhodes,
Daniel B. Bernstein and Doris A. Calandra, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, Ronald Richards, Nicholas Bravo and Patrick T. Santos as
Amici Curiae.


Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

J. Wilder Lee
360 Ritch Street, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 495-3115

Doris A. Calandra
Deputy Attorney General
1300 I Street, Suite 125
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
(916) 324-5250


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses. This case presents the following issue: Did either the protective-sweep exception or the emergency-aid exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant permit police officers to make a forcible entry into a locked bedroom while responding to a report of a shooting with injuries at the house?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:Cross Referenced Cases:
Tue, 02/22/201151 Cal. 4th 599, 246 P.3d 901, 120 Cal. Rptr. 3d 770S180759Review - Criminal Appealsubmitted/opinion due

PEOPLE v. CHUNG (S184344)


Parties
1The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Doris A. Calandra
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA

2Troyer, Albert (Defendant and Appellant)
8865 Mandalay Way
Elk Grove, CA 95624

Represented by John Wilder Lee
Attorney at Law
360 Ritch Street, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA

3Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C. (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Nicholas Bravo
Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, APC
P.O. Box 11480
Beverly Hills, CA

4Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C. (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Patrick T. Santos
Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, APC
P.O. Box 11480
Beverly Hills, CA

5Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C. (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Ronald Richards
Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, APC
P.O. Box 11480
Beverly Hills, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Marvin R. Baxter
ConcurJustice Kathryn M. Werdegar
DissentJustice Joyce L. Kennard

Dockets
Mar 8 2010Petition for review filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Doris A. Calandra  
Mar 8 2010Record requested
 
Mar 9 2010Received Court of Appeal record
  one doghouse
Apr 28 2010Petition for review granted
  Votes: George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, and Corrigan, JJ.
May 3 2010Received:
  address confirmation. by J. Wilder Lee, counsel for appellant
May 21 2010Request for extension of time filed
  respondent requesting extension until June 28, 2010 to file opening brief on the merits. by Doris A. Calandra, counsel
May 27 2010Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, John Wilder Lee is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date respondent's opening brief on the merits is filed.
Jun 28 2010Opening brief on the merits filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Doris A. Calandra  
Jul 27 2010Answer brief on the merits filed
Defendant and Appellant: Troyer, AlbertAttorney: John Wilder Lee  
Aug 12 2010Request for extension of time filed
  Respondent requesting extension until September 15, 2010 to file reply brief on the merits. by Doris A. Calandra, counsel
Aug 16 2010Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the reply brief on the merits is extended to and including September 15, 2010.
Aug 18 2010Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Lee
Sep 15 2010Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Doris A. Calandra   with permission/ cover was incorrect.
Sep 30 2010Application to file amicus curiae brief filed
  Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C.
Oct 5 2010Permission to file amicus curiae brief granted
  The Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates APC The application of The Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C. for permission to file an amicus curiae brief is hereby granted. An answer thereto may be served and filed by any party within 20 days of the filing of the brief.
Oct 5 2010Amicus curiae brief filed
Amicus curiae: Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C.Attorney: Nicholas Bravo Attorney: Patrick T. Santos Attorney: Ronald Richards  
Oct 27 2010Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued Tuesday, December 7, 2010, at 2:00 p.m., in Los Angeles
Nov 24 2010Received:
  Respondent - supplemental authorities. by doris A. Calandra, Deputy Attorney General.
Dec 7 2010Cause argued and submitted
 
Jan 3 2011Justice pro tempore assigned
  George, C.J. (retired), appointed as justice pro tempore to this case.
Feb 18 2011Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
  To be filed on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 10 a.m.

Briefs
Jun 28 2010Opening brief on the merits filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Doris A. Calandra  
Jul 27 2010Answer brief on the merits filed
Defendant and Appellant: Troyer, AlbertAttorney: John Wilder Lee  
Sep 15 2010Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Doris A. Calandra  
Oct 5 2010Amicus curiae brief filed
Amicus curiae: Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C.Attorney: Nicholas Bravo Attorney: Patrick T. Santos Attorney: Ronald Richards  
Brief Downloads
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s180759-4-respondents-reply-brief-on-the-merits.pdf (223869 bytes) - Respondents Reply Brief on the Merits
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s180759-3-appellants-answer-brief-on-the-merits.pdf (425402 bytes) - Appellants Answer Brief on the Merits
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s180759-2-respondents-opening-brief-on-the-merits.pdf (226558 bytes) - Respondents Opening Brief on the Merits
application/pdf icon
s180759-1-respondents-petition-for-review.pdf (254238 bytes) - Respondents Petition for Review
application/pdf icon
s180759-5-amicus-brief.pdf (367232 bytes) - Amicus Curiae Brief by Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C.
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
May 24, 2011
Annotated by jordan teti

-Key Players-

Sergeant Tim Albright—Elk Grove Police Sergeant who was the first officer to respond to a police dispatch report of shots fired at the defendant’s house; Albright questioned one of the witnesses on the scene and decided to initiate police entry into the defendant’s house.

Officer Samuel Seo—Elk Grove Police Officer who entered the locked upstairs bedroom of the defendants’ home.

Adrien Abeyta—Found bleeding at the scene of the shooting; police questioned Abeyta about whether additional victims or suspects were inside the house.

Albert Troyer—the defendant whose house was searched, though he was not home at the time of the search. The police found illicit items in Troyer’s home and charged him with drug-related offenses.

-Facts-

A police dispatch reported that shots had been fired at the defendant’s home and that an unidentified male had been “shot twice” there. When Sergeant Tim Albright arrived at the scene, he found that Mia Zapata had been shot multiple times and that Adrien Abeyta was bleeding from a wound at the top of his head, though Abeyta did not appear to have been shot.

Albright noticed blood on the front door, which indicated to him that a bleeding victim may have come into contact with the door. As a result, Albright asked Abeyta if anyone was inside the house. Abeyta first did not respond, and after hearing the question three times, said “no.” Albright noticed that Abeyta was visibly agitated, so worried that Abeyta’s claim was inaccurate and that there might be additional victims inside. Therefore, Albright verbally announced the police’s presence, heard no response from inside, and entered the house with a team of uniformed officers.

While searching the house, Officer Samuel Seo kicked open a locked upstairs bedroom door in the house and found an electronic scale and balls of marijuana. Based on this warrantless search, Seo prepared an affidavit so that police could obtain a warrant to search the house. The police obtained this warrant, searched the house, and uncovered more illicit items.

-Procedural Posture-

The trial court denied the defense motion to suppress the evidence. A divided panel of the Court of Appeal reversed and directed the trial court to enter an order granting the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court granted the People’s petition for review.

-Issue-

Was the warrantless search of the defendant’s locked upstairs bedroom justified under an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement?

-Holding-

The Supreme Court reversed. It held that the warrantless search of the defendant’s bedroom was justified under the “emergency aid exception” to the warrant requirement. The Court found that it was objectively reasonable for the officers to have entered the house in order to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant. The search of the house under the “emergency aid exception” also justified the search of the upstairs bedroom because it was objectively reasonable to believe that a victim was in the bedroom.

-Analysis-

The Court applied the “emergency aid exception” to the warrant requirement despite Abeyta’s assertion on the scene that no one was in the house. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Michigan v. Fisher, the officer only needed to have an “objectively reasonable basis for believing that medical assistance was needed or persons were in danger” inside the house. 130 S. Ct. 546, 549 (2009).

The Court found three reasons in the fact pattern to support its position that Sergeant Albright acted with “objective reasonableness” in believing that a shooting victim was in the house. (1) Albright observed blood on the front door, which indicated that someone who had been shot entered the house. (2) Although Abeyta was bleeding, it was unclear whether he had been shot twice. The dispatch report had stated that a male victim had been shot twice. Because police had not yet found a male shooting victim, it was all the more reasonable to expect that another victim was inside the house. (3) The Court also noted that Abeyta’s answers to Albright’s questions were “inconsistent” because he delayed 15-20 seconds before answering, then said he “did not think” people were inside, then said “no.” Thus, the blood on the door, the unaccounted-for male shooting victim, and Abeyta’s “conflicting” answers about additional victims together justified an objectively reasonable belief that a victim inside the house or its rooms would need emergency assistance.

The search of the upstairs bedroom was within the “exigencies which justified” the initial search of the house for another victim. The fact that the searching officers had not found bloodstains or signs of a struggle inside the house did not undermine an objectively reasonable belief that the victim could be in the upstairs bedroom.

The Court also emphasized that a warrantless search under the “emergency aid exception” to the warrant requirement does not require probable cause. The opinion went on to state in dicta that the potential for police to prevent injury or death outweighs an affront to the defendant’s privacy, as long as the police enter the home with an objectively reasonable belief that an emergency exists.

-Concurrence-

Werdegar agreed to reverse the Court of Appeal, but was skeptical about justifying the search under the “emergency aid exception.” Instead, Werdegar stated that she would have been more comfortable justifying the search under officer safety rationale. In particular, she concluded that the locked bedroom door posed “obvious risks” to officer safety.

-Dissent-

Kennard’s dissent argued that the officers did not have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that someone needed immediate aid in the house, let alone in the locked bedroom. Kennard emphasized that no evidence indicated that a gunshot victim was inside the bedroom, since the officers found no trace of blood in the house, no sign of struggle, and no sounds coming from inside the room.

Kennard also pointed out that Abeyta’s responses to Albright’s questions were consistent, despite his delay in answering which was understandable in such a chaotic situation. Even if Albright had reason to doubt Abeyta, Kennard stated that these doubts are only reasons to disregard Abeyta’s answers, they are not objectively reasonable bases for believing that someone needed immediate aid inside the house.

-Tags-
Warrantless search
Emergency aid exception
Fourth Amendment
Lack of consent to enter premises
Objective reasonableness
Scope of search under emergency aid exception

-Key Related Cases-

Tamborino v. Superior Court, 41 Cal.3d 919 (Cal. 1986).

Michigan v. Fisher, 130 S. Ct. 546 (2009).

Brigham City v. Stuart, 126 S. Ct. 1943 (2006).

Hunsberger v. Wood, 570 F.3d 546, (4th Cir. 2009).

Annotation by: Jordan D. Teti

May 23, 2011
Annotated by lale uner

FACTS

On June 6, 2007, Sergeant Albright responded to a police dispatch to find Mia Zapata and Adrian Abeyta suffering from gun wounds at 9253 Gem Crest Way in Elk Grove. Blood marks on the door indicated a victim may have come into contact with it. Albright was uncertain that the wounded Abeyta’s statement that the house was empty of people was reliable. He decided that he had a responsibility to verify whether there were additional victims or suspects in the house. Abeyta declined to give permission to enter the house until Albright warned him that officers would otherwise need to kick in the door. Once in the house, officer Samuel Seo found an electronic scale and quarter-size balls of marijuana. Detective Mark Bearor prepared an affidavit for a search warrant. The search uncovered items including marijuana, a live marijuana plant, to semiautomatic pistols, a shotgun, a Winchester rifle, and ammunition.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The superior court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant then pleaded no contest to unlawful possession of marijuana for sale and unauthorized cultivation of marijuana, and admitted arming enhancements for both offenses. The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed defendant on probation for five years on the condition he serve one year in jail. A divided panel of the Court of Appeal reversed and directed the trial court to enter an order granting the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court of California granted the People’s petition for review and found for the People.

ISSUES

Did either the protective-sweep exception or the emergency-aid exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant permit police officers to make a forcible entry into a locked bedroom while responding to a report of a shooting with injuries at the house?

HOLDING

Yes; the scope of the search was reasonable and exceptions to the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant permitted police officers to make a forcible entry into a locked bedroom while responding to a report of a shooting with injuries at the house.

ANALYSIS

Because a warrantless entry into a home is presumptively unreasonable, the government bears the burden of establishing that exigent circumstances or another exception to the warrant requirement justified the entry. Precedent holds that the emergency aid exception requires only an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a person within the house is in immediate need of aid. Further, 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. The court decided that the case turned on whether there was an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant was seriously injured or threatened with such injury. It found that the record amply supported a reasonable basis for believing that an occupant was seriously injured or threatened with such injury. Police dispatch stated that shots had been fired at the house, and Sergeant Albright observed blood at the scene indicating that a shooting had occurred and that a bleeding victim had come into contact with the door. The original dispatch report indicated that a male victim had been shot twice but no such victim was at the scene outside the house. Abeyta’s wounded state rendered questionable his answers to questions as to whether there was anyone in the house. Because the window blinds were closed, Albright could not peek inside to verify. As such, the police’s actions were reasonable did not constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

TAGS

emergency aid exception, Fourth Amendment violation, Privacy, protective sweep, search and seizure, warrantless entry

KEY RELATED CASES

Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980).

Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006).

Michigan v. Fisher, 130 S.Ct. 546 (2009).

Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990).