Cal.: Case law permitting “community caretaking function” entry into a home without true exigency is overruled

People v. Ray, 21 Cal.4th 464, 88 Cal. Rptr. 2d 1, 981 P.2d 928 (1999) that created a limited “community caretaking function” entry into a home without true exigency is overruled. By case law, that exception is limited to vehicles, not houses. An articulable exigency is required to enter a home. People v. Ovieda, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 5947 (Aug. 12, 2019):

Aside from the Court of Appeal below, no published California case after Ray has applied the concept of community caretaking outside the context of a vehicle inventory. At least two cases have concluded that no substantial evidence existed to support a community caretaking search. People v. Madrid (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1050 held the doctrine did not justify a traffic stop where police believed a passenger may have been ill. (Id. at pp. 1057-1060.) People v. Morton (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 1039 held the belief that there had been a “‘marijuana rip off'” at a residence was unsupported by substantial evidence and a warrantless entry was not excused. (Id. at pp. 1048-1049; see also People v. Camacho (2000) 23 Cal.4th 824, 837, fn. 4.)

The need to render emergency aid is a well-recognized part of the exigent circumstances exception. But it has always required that articulable facts support a reasonable belief that an emergency exists. The Ray lead opinion, having found no such facts were established, created a less demanding exception. It purported to permit a warrantless entry if some kind of police assistance might be rendered but the need was merely hypothetical.

The Ray lead opinion’s diluted exception was not supported by our prior jurisprudence. The circumstances it describes as community caretaking do not involve nonemergency situations at all. Rather, it describes situations that could be emergencies but lack sufficient articulable facts to reasonably suggest an emergency exists. It suggested that entry was justified “to resolve the possibility someone inside required assistance or property needed protection.” (Ray, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 478 (lead opn. of Brown, J.), italics added.) If officers had articulated facts to believe someone inside needed immediate aid or that a crime was ongoing, they could enter based on those exigent circumstances. The lead opinion’s suggestion that an entry is justified to explore the possibility that those facts exist dilutes the appropriate standard for exigency. Indeed, such a suggestion is inconsistent with our later clarification in Troyer, supra, 51 Cal.4th 599 that, although police do not “need ‘ironclad proof of “a likely serious, life-threatening” injury to invoke the emergency aid exception,'” (id. at p. 602), officers must possess “an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant was seriously injured or threatened with such injury” (id. at p. 607). The line falls between the mere inchoate possibility that an emergency could exist and the officer’s articulation of facts that make it reasonable, even if uncertain, to believe an emergency does exist.

The officers here surmised that there may have been others in the house who required aid or posed a threat if allowed access to unsecured firearms. Those could be exigent circumstances justifying warrantless entry, but the objective facts that elevate speculation to reasonable suspicion were not present or were not articulated at the suppression hearing. (Cf. Troyer, supra, 51 Cal.4th at p. 607; People v. Pou (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 143, 151-152; Stamper, supra, 106 Cal.App.3d at pp. 305-306.)

Further, even though the officers here could not articulate facts pointing to an emergency, they were not without recourse. If officers reasonably believed that defendant was a danger to himself or others due to a mental disorder, they could have temporarily taken him into custody for a mental health evaluation. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 5150, subd. (a), 5260; see People v. Triplett (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 283, 286-288.) If they had done so, they could have obtained a warrant for the seizure of defendant’s firearms. (Pen. Code, § 1524, subd. (a)(10); Welf. & Inst. Code, § 8102, subd. (a).)

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