Monday, July 06, 2009

People v. Rogers (Cal. Supreme Court - July 6, 2009)

The police get a report of a person who's been missing for around a month. Something to investigate, of course, but not desperately urgent, which is why even though they receive the call at 8:00 a.m., they don't bother to investigate until later that afternoon.

When they arrive, they speak with the manager of the apartment complex. A guy who turns out to be a really bad guy, but they don't know that yet. After talking with him, he seems very shady, especially when he won't consent to letting them search some storage space at the complex. But they realize that they don't have nearly enough for probable cause, or even to attempt to get a warrant from a sympathetic judge.

So what do they do? Bust down the doors. And find damning evidence.

At which point the defendant unsuccessfully moves to suppress, and is ultimately sentenced to death. So the California Supreme Court gets the case. What result?

Yep. Unanimously affirms. There were "exigent circumstances" that negated the requirement for a warrant because it was an "emergency situation" that "require[d] swift action to prevent imminent danger to life." Yes, a full month had passed, and yes, they were in no rush to investigate initially. But once they realized they had no probable cause, and even though there was nothing at all to suggest that a live (or even dead) person was in the storage area, you never know. Hence you can bust the doors down to your heart's content, and use the evidence that you just "happen" to find therein.

Rogers is a bad dude. I'm happy he's off the streets of San Diego. But I'm also incredibly disturbed by the willingness of the California judiciary to find "exigent circumstances" in any setting in which you don't roll off your chair laughing at the suggesting that someone might perhaps, just maybe, in a parallel universe be alive and waiting desperately to be found in whatever area the police happen to want to search. Which happens in this case, and without a single dissenting peep.