Hurry up and metabolize the evidence
The California Supreme Court ruled this month on whether a suspected drunk driver that makes it home, then refuses to come out of his house, justifies the police entering the house and arresting him.
Madelene Orvos returned to her apartment complex in Santa Barbara from a walk on the beach with her dogs. She found defendant Daniel Thompson passed out in a white Ford Bronco in her assigned parking space. She saw Thompson stumble around, toss an empty vodka bottle out of the Bronco, pass out a second time, then take off in the Bronco.
Orvos had seen Thompson driving under the influence before, so she followed him and called 911. She watched him speeding down the freeway weaving in and out of traffic.
White Ford Bronco. Hmmm, where have I seen that before?
Orvos was not able to keep up with the drunk Thompson because he kept running stop signs, but ultimately Officer Gutierrez picked up the Bronco’s trail and followed it to Thompson’s house.
Officer Gutierrez and another officer approached the front door and rang the doorbell. They heard talking in the house, then saw a “tall shirtless White male” leave the house and go in the backyard. The man staggered and swayed and slurred his speech and gave off a strong odor of alcohol, but got back into the house before the officers could confront him.
Finally, the officers entered the house and handcuffed Thompson. They had him identified by Orvos and took him to the station. His blood test revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 percent. Way over the limit.
The Court of Appeal found the search unlawful and in violation of the Fourth Amendment “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
A man’s home is his castle, or so I’ve heard.
The case was appealed by Santa Barbara to the California Supreme Court. The court recited that the law of the land, precedent set by the United States Supreme Court interpreting the United States Constitution controls: “Entry into a home based upon exigent circumstances requires probable cause to believe that entry is justified by one of these factors such as imminent destruction of evidence or the need to prevent a suspect’s escape.”
Now you know: Generally a search warrant is required to enter a suspect’s home, but if the suspect is about to destroy evidence or he may escape, a search warrant may not be necessary.
The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that alcohol metabolizes and leaves the body after a period of time ” as we all know. The court found that the dissipation of blood-alcohol amounted to imminent destruction of evidence. In other words, by the time the officers found a judge and obtained a search warrant, the suspect’s blood alcohol content may be within the legal limit, so they had a right to go in and arrest him.
Exigent circumstances ” your word of the month.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter – Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firm’s Web site, http://www.portersimon.com.
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