CA1: Potential for immediate destruction of evidence in this case permitted entry onto the curtilage to check def’s truck

Defendant was accused of traveling from New Hampshire to Maine to shoot his wife after breaking in the house she was staying in. Officers in Maine reported to New Hampshire police the shooting, and they went to defendant’s house. They entered into the driveway (the curtilage) to check the temperature of defendant’s truck to see if it had been recently driven. It was 30º at the time. “In short, based on our fact-bound and case-specific inquiry, we conclude that Officer Dyer’s warrantless search of Owens’s vehicle while parked in his house’s driveway did not offend the Fourth Amendment because, within the totality of the circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for Officer Dyer to believe the search was necessary to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence.” The court analogized Schmerber and the natural dissipation of the heat as destruction of evidence in finding exigency. United States v. Owens, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 5647 (1st Cir. Feb. 26, 2019):

The natural dissipation of the vehicle’s heat, however, was not the only way the evidence could have been lost in the present case. If Owens turned on his vehicle’s engine, as he eventually did, the evidence would have likewise been destroyed. Ignition would have made it practically impossible for law enforcement to know, based on touch, whether the vehicle was previously warm. In deciding whether to enter the driveway and touch Owens’s vehicle, Officer Dyer was “forced to make [a] split-second judgment[] — in circumstances that [were] tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.” United States v. Almonte-Báez, 857 F.3d 27, 31 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting King, 563 U.S. at 466). Because a light inside Owens’s house was shut off a few minutes before his entry into the driveway, Officer Dyer had an objectively reasonable basis to believe Owens was awake and therefore capable of exiting his house and turning on his vehicle at any moment, thereby destroying the evidence. These circumstances, considered in conjunction with the inevitable natural dissipation of the vehicle’s warmth, support a finding of exigency and, thus, of reasonableness as to Officer Dyer’s search. See Almonte-Báez, 857 F.3d at 32 (“[T]he government … may invoke the exigent circumstances exception when it can identify an ‘objectively reasonable basis’ for concluding that, absent some immediate action, the loss or destruction of evidence is likely.” (citation omitted)).

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