The "New" Emergency-Aid Exception to the Warrant Requirement

State v. Wilson (ICA December 26, 2017)
Background. Kevin Wilson was charged with terroristic threatening in the first degree through the use of a dangerous instrument. It stemmed from a 911 call by a third party reporting that a couple was having an argument in Kahaluu. After the call, officers were informed that the female was afraid and that the male had a knife.

When the police got to the house, two officers approached the front door and one officer, Jason Akiona, went to the back. At the front door, they saw Wilson inside and told announced their presence. Wilson told them to “get the #$%! away from my house.” The officers didn’t listen and opened the screen door and ordered Wilson to come out. Wilson complied, was patted down by the police, and no weapons were found.

As Officer Akiona went to the back door he heard a female crying. He called out to her, but there was no response. Upon learning that Wilson was out of the house, Officer Akiona went inside through the back door and called out. He still received no response. He went to a locked door in the hallway and announced his presence. The complainant emerged from the bathroom holding a baby. Officer Akiona later testified at a hearing that he believed “exigent circumstances” justified his intrusion through the back door. The officers searched the house and found a knife and tire iron in the garage on the freezer.

Wilson went to trial without filing a motion to suppress. He was found guilty and was sentenced to five years prison. He appealed.

No Motion to Suppress, No Objection, No Issue on Appeal . . . The ICA first noted that Wilson waived his right to challenge the admission of the evidence seized within his house. No motion to suppress was filed. Failing to file a pretrial motion to suppress is a waiver of evidence. HRPP Rule 12(f). Moreover, Wilson didn’t object to the admission of this evidence at his trial either. The issue was not raised until closing argument to the judge. All Wilson said at closing was that “there’s no probable cause for the arrest or the search that there should have been an arrest warrant obtained or a search warrant obtained. And I’ll incorporate that in my arguments.” For the ICA, this was not enough to preserve the issue on appeal. State v. Hoglund, 71 Haw. 147, 150, 785 P.2d 1311, 1313 (1990); State v. Ildefonso, 72 Haw. 573, 584, 827 P.2d 648, 655 (1992); State v. Moses, 102 Hawaii 449, 456, 77 P.3d 940, 947 (2003). The ICA, however, felt the issue merited review and analyzed the issue anyways.

The Warrant Requirement and its Exceptions. There is no denying that Officer Akiona’s entry into the house and the subsequent entries to recover the evidence were made without a warrant. Wilson contended that no exception to the warrant requirement justified the entry into his house. Wilson argued that the only conceivable exception would be the exigent-circumstances exception and that these facts did not justify it.

“Exigent circumstances exist when an immediate police response is reasonably required to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the likely escape of a suspect or the threatened removal or destruction of evidence.” State v. Lloyd, 61 Haw. 505, 512, 606 P.2d 912, 918 (1980). The prosecution did not rely on exigency and instead urged the ICA to adopt a new exception to the warrant requirement.

The “Emergency Aid Exception”? The prosecution turned to federal courts interpreting the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and proposed the emergency-aid exception. Under this exception, “law enforcement officers may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). Put differently, there must be “an objectively reasonable basis for believing that medical assistance was needed, or persons were in danger.” Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 49 (2009).

In this case, the police received a 911 call, that there was a scared female and a knife was involved. When the officers called out to the crying female, there was no response. According to the ICA, if the complainant had been stabbed, injured, or restrained, the failure to enter the house to assure the complainant’s safety could have resulted in dire consequences.

The Hawaii Constitution too? The ICA had already noted that Article I, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution has not recognized this exception to the warrant requirement. State v. Ramos-Sanders,135 Hawaii 299, 306, 349 P.3d 406, 413 (App. 2015). But these facts justified its introduction to Hawaii jurisprudence. The ICA adopted the exception so that officers could enter a home “to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury.” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. at 403. The exception is not necessarily a new category of the warrant exception, but instead expands the scope of exigency. Id.

Is this Really a new Exception? Under the old exigency exception, the police could enter a private space without a warrant to “prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property.” State v. Lloyd, supra. How is this different than the emergency-aid exception? Wouldn’t this really be an expansive interpretation of the exception instead of the ushering in of a new exception?


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