Cal.2d: Emergency aid search of wrong house was still objectively reasonable

Based on a police dispatch of a screaming woman who was also moaning in distress, the police went to the address (2314) given and entered. They did not find the woman and kept looking upstairs and in closets and found drugs. It turned out that the police were sent to the wrong house. Following up, they found an Uber driver had called and the report was about the house “across the street from 2314.” The search was still valid based on the emergency search doctrine.
People v. Pou, 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 385 (2d Dist. April 26, 2017):

[O]fficers do not need ironclad proof of ‘a likely serious, life-threatening’ injury to invoke the emergency aid doctrine.” … The Supreme Court thus clarified that “‘[t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties’ …. It sufficed to invoke the emergency aid exception that it was reasonable to believe that Fisher hurt himself (albeit nonfatally) and needed treatment that in his rage he was unable to provide, or that Fisher was about to hurt, or had already hurt, someone else.” … Underlying the Supreme Court’s holding was its reasoning that the emergency aid exception “requires only ‘an objectively \reasonable basis for believing’ … that ‘a person within [the house] is in need of immediate aid’ ….”

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The objective reasonableness of the decision to enter and search was bolstered by the fact that there was a delay before any occupant answered the door in response to the police knocking and identifying themselves multiple times. Under the circumstances, the delayed reaction by the occupants of a house from which loud arguing could be heard would have roused an officer’s suspicions. In Troyer, supra, 51 Cal.4th at page 608, the court cited with approval a federal appellate decision (Causey v. City of Bay City (6th Cir. 2006) 442 F.3d 524, 530) holding that police reasonably conducted an emergency aid search after receiving assurances that no one was injured, because the officers could have inferred the person offering such assurances was concealing an injured person or was being intimidated by an unseen attacker. Here, too, it was reasonable for the officers to enter defendant’s house without a warrant, even after defendant told them several times he did not want them to enter.

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Here, it was objectively reasonable for the police to continue with their emergency search because they had yet to find the screaming woman whom they reasonably could have concluded under the circumstances had been hidden away, harmed further, or silenced in some other part of the large house after the police had alerted the occupants to their presence. Moreover, at that point in the search, the officers had neither located nor prevented from causing further harm any perpetrator who might have been arguing with and causing harm to the screaming woman. It was, therefore, reasonable for the officers to continue with their emergency search to find the victim or suspect in order to prevent further immediate harm.

Finally, the fact that the officers mistakenly searched the wrong location does not undermine the reasonableness of their decision to conduct the search based on the information they had at the time. Both of the officers and the sergeant were informed by the radio dispatch broadcast that the location of the screaming woman was 2314 Jupiter Drive. They had no reason to question the accuracy of the reported address when they responded to that location. Indeed, from an objective standpoint, the seeming accuracy of the address was confirmed (albeit incorrectly) upon arrival when the officers heard loud arguing coming from that precise location and saw two men engaged in an argument therein. Based on these facts, it was objectively reasonable for the officers to conduct an emergency search of 2314 Jupiter Drive, even though it later turned out that the original distress call concerned a location across the street. We do not with a “hindsight determination” upend the officers’ objectively reasonable conclusion that an exigency existed at the location simply because we subsequently learn of contrary facts unknown to the officers at the time they made their decision. (See Troyer, supra, 51 Cal.4th at p. 613; see also Hill v. California (1971) 401 U.S. 797, 804 [28 L. Ed. 2d 484, 91 S. Ct. 1106] [search incident to arrest valid where arresting officers had a “reasonable, good faith belief” that the man they mistakenly arrested was another man for whom they had probable cause and sought to arrest]; People v. Espino (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 746, 760 [202 Cal. Rptr. 3d 354] [upholding arrest as lawful where officers made “good faith mistake of fact” that a diamond in the defendant's pocket was crack cocaine].)

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