Monday, August 15, 2005

U.S. v. Stafford (9th Cir. - Aug. 3, 2005)

A fire alarm inspector smells a massive, foul stench in an apartment that smells very much like a dead boy, and when he tries to open a bedroom door (and associated bathroom), the stench becomes overwhelming, and he sees blood and feces (and hypodermic needles) everywhere. So he thinks there's someone dead in there, and calls the police. Who arrive a fair piece later. And who hang out and run license plate checks and do some other stuff for another 30 minutes until their sergeant arrives. At that point, the police enter the apartment to look for a dead body. They don't find one, but they do find a lot of incriminating stuff instead, and arrest and convict Stafford based exclusively upon the evidence they found in his home.

This is a permissible warrantless search of Stafford's home only if "there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for [police] assistance for the protection of life or property." The police officers could easily have gotten a telephonic warrant during, inter alia, the half hour they were hanging out in the parking lot. Is looking for a dead body (there was utterly no indication that anyone was alive in there, and the stench of the unit and lack of reaction to the police -- plus the police department's lazy approach to the search -- suggests that they were not at all concerned someone alive being in there) an "emergency" that requires "immediate" police action "for the protection of life or property" and hence is an exception to the typical requirement of a warrant before a home may permissibly be searched and any evidence obtained therein used at trial?

Judges Tallman and Rawlinson sayeth "Yes." Judge Canby sayeth "No." What sayeth thee?

P.S. - Not that there was any doubt, but lest anyone believe that Clinton's appointments to the Ninth Circuit (e.g., Tallman and Rawlinson) weren't any different than Carter's (e.g., Canby), this case is Exhibit 1251 to the contrary.