By Stevie Phillips
Deputies were dispatched to Stoney Anderson’s neighborhood at about 1 a.m. in response to an unknown disturbance involving shots fired. They encountered a car leaving Anderson’s home. The occupants told them that they were coming from a small get together and had not heard any shots. Nonetheless, the deputies proceeded to Anderson’s home and walked around to the back of the house.
As the deputies were walking onto the back deck, Anderson exited the house holding a duffle bag. When asked, he told them that he had not heard any shots. At this point, however, the deputies could smell marijuana and saw several people sitting at the kitchen table. They then entered Anderson’s home and eventually searched the duffle bag where they found marijuana and paraphernalia.
Before trial, Anderson moved to suppress the evidence found in the bag. The trial court denied his motion on the basis that exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless search, namely that the deputies were responding to an immediate risk of serious harm to themselves and others based on their concern that the bag contained a weapon.
On appeal, Anderson argued that, even if there were exigent circumstances, those circumstances could not support the search of his bag because the deputies created the exigency when they unconstitutionally intruded into the curtilage of his home. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed.
In the Court’s analysis, Anderson’s back deck was “an area to which the activity of home life extends” and therefore plainly within the curtilage of his home. The Court also determined that the deputies’ intrusion onto the deck without a warrant was unreasonable because they had no information connecting Anderson’s house to the disturbance. Because any risk to the deputies’ safety resulted from their violation of Anderson’s constitutional rights, even a reasonable fear for their safety could not support the search of Anderson’s bag.
In sum, the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement does not apply if the police themselves create the exigency. Kentucky v. King, 131 S. Ct. 1849, 1857-58 (2011). Case dismissed.
The full opinion can be found here.