EMERGENCY AID EXCEPTION TO WARRANT APPLIES ONLY IF POLICE HAVE OBJECTIVE REASONABLE GROUND THAT EMERGENCY EXISTS

In Commonwealth v. Kaeppeler,  the SJC reversed the defendant’s convictions of rape, drugging for sexual intercourse, and a related offense because the judge erroneously ruled that the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement justified the warrantless seizure of evidence from the defendant’s home by the police. The facts are as follows:  The defendant and several friends spent the evening in question drinking and dancing at a nightclub. After leaving the club, the group continued partying at the defendant’s home. “The defendant served shots of tequila to everyone.” Two of the guests became seriously ill and were transported to the hospital indian viagra line. The medical staff, suspecting that the patients had been sickened by ingestion of a date-rape drug (gamma-hydroxy butyric acid [GHB]), requested that the police “perform a well-being check on the defendant at his home because he too might be at risk for illness after drinking tequila with the two patients.” The police went to the defendant’s home. In response to the officers’ inquiries, the defendant said “that he was not feeling well and had been sleeping a lot.” The officers urged the defendant to go to the hospital; he agreed and an ambulance was called. After the defendant’s departure, one officer remained behind in his home. At that officer’s “request, an evidence collection officer … arrived and photographed and collected [two] tequila bottles. The bottles were not tested until several months later.” One of them “tested positive for 1, 4-Butanediol, a drug that is converted by the body into GHB.” In his appeal, the defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the tequila bottles.

In its decision, the SJC stated that “a warrantless search or seizure undertaken on the basis of the emergency aid exception passes constitutional muster … only if … the police had an objectively reasonable ground to believe that an emergency existed; and … the conduct of the police after the entry was reasonable under all the circumstances.” The Court concluded that while the police initially “had objectively reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant may have been injured or in need of immediate medical assistance, … the seizure of the tequila bottles was unreasonable for two reasons.” First, “the seizure occurred after the defendant departed for the hospital in an ambulance and while the police remained in his home without his consent.” At that time, “the police had no further cause for concern about the defendant’s well-being and no public safety justification to remain in his home.” Second, where the bottles were not tested until several months after their seizure, the Court concluded that “the police retained the evidence for investigative purposes without verifying its relevance to the emergency justifying their entry into the defendant’s home.”

 

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