The exception to the warrant requirement for domestic violence calls does not apply once the victim is no longer at risk. In those circumstances, the police must get a warrant.i
Police in Franklin County responded to a domestic violence call. When they arrived, the victim told them that her boyfriend fled during an argument that she feared would turn violent. She reported that her gun and ammunition were missing, along with a few other items. Police knew that he was a felon, and therefore, could not legally possess a gun. They also thought that he was headed for a house in Chambersburg.ii
When one of the first police officers arrived outside the house around midnight, he saw the boyfriend walk away from a nearby car and toward the house. Other officers set up surveillance around it; nobody could leave without them seeing. While they later admitted that they could have applied for a warrant, they did not.iii Police approached the house. Someone on the porch refused to let them in. They encountered someone else behind the house, who also refused them entry. The police entered the house anyway and found the boyfriend. Two people fought with the police when they tried to arrest him.
The police charged those two people with obstructing the administration of law and related offenses. The defendants moved to suppress the search and related evidence because the police lacked a warrant. The trial court denied their motion, and they appealed.iv
The Superior Court reversed the verdict, suppressed the results of the illegal entry, and ordered a new trial. It explained that the circumstances police cited were insufficient for a warrantless entry.v
The Commonwealth argued that the fact that police were initially called for a domestic disturbance justified a warrantless search. The Superior Court disagreed, and explained emphatically that a domestic violence call does not automatically allow police entry: The police can only enter without a warrant when the time it would take to get one would put someone at risk of physical harm. Because the victim was safely away from the house that police ultimately entered, she was not in immediate danger. The court further explained that even the police’s belief that the boyfriend was armed did not justify the entry, because nobody actually saw him with a gun.vi
An illegal police entry is just one of several aspects of a criminal case that could lead to a favorable outcome. If you are facing criminal charges, it is critical that you have an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer assess every angle of your case.
Call Pyfer Reese Straub Gray and Farhat PC at 717.299.7342 and ask to talk to Attorneys Daniel C. Bardo, Heather L. Adams or Christopher M. Patterson.
~Daniel C. Bardo, Esquire
i as the Superior Court explained in Commonwealth v. Gray, ___ A.3d ___, 2019 Pa. Super. 175 (Pa. Super. 2019).
ii Id. at pp. 2-4.
iii Id. at pp. 4-8.
iv Id. at p. 8.
v Id. at pp. 16-18.