Criminal defendants in California and throughout the country have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, as a recent California case shows, there are exceptions to the general requirement that police obtain a warrant before conducting a search. The issue before the California appeals court was whether police could enter a residence without a warrant based on the role of the police as a “community caretaker.”
In that case, the police responded to a report that 11 gunshots had been fired. They came to a house and found a spent shell casing on the driveway. They arrested an individual on the scene who was yelling at the officers, and found additional spent casings behind a gate leading to the back yard. An officer knocked on a door on the side of a garage apartment several times. No one answered, but he heard what he believed was items being pushed against the door. The officers spoke to other people at a window and at the front door of the house.
According to police, the defendant’s father let police enter the house and was looking for a key to open the garage apartment when the defendant came out of the apartment, shutting the door behind him, which automatically locked the door. The officer arrested the defendant and kicked the door open to the garage apartment. He found a semiautomatic pistol and an explosive device. The officers later obtained a search warrant and searched the residence. They found an additional handgun, bullets, a body armor vest, spent shell casings, and a bag with a clear, rock-like substance. Police later found surveillance video which showed the defendant walking down the driveway, pulling out a gun and firing six shots into the air. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his apartment because he claimed the police’s initial search was in violation of the Constitution.