In 1991, 17 year old Sue was riding around in Walnut, Mississippi, with her friend Nicole. They approached Charles Crawford, her ex brother-in-law, in a parking lot and asked him if he would help them put fluid in their car. He helped them and told Sue he needed to talk to her about something but didn’t elaborate.
Later that evening, the girls spotted Crawford again and Sue asked him what he wanted to talk about earlier. Crawford told Sue he had gotten pictures of her from Sue’s boyfriend and they were bad. He agreed to give the photos to her if she and Nicole would get in his truck and ride back to his house.
He told Nicole to wait in the car as he and Sue walked towards his house. He went into the house before Sue and when she entered he pulled a gun and put it to her head. He used duct tape on her hands and mouth and then raped her.
Crawford left the house for a minute with Sue inside and then returned. Unknown to Sue, Crawford hit Nicole on the head with a hammer. Crawford then took Sue to Memphis before eventually calling 911 and turning himself over to the police.
Meanwhile, Tippah County Sheriff’s Deputies got a call about someone being hit on the head. Nicole told them Sue needed help and was at Crawford’s house. Officers knocked and yelled but nobody answered so they entered and saw duct tape with hair, blood, and footprints leading to a nearby abandoned house. After leaving the abandoned house, they went back into Crawford’s house a second time to collect evidence.
A deputy testified that he got permission to search the house from Crawford’s grandfather.
Crawford was convicted of rape and sentenced to 46 years. On appeal, he argued the second entry into the home to collect evidence was not exigent. MSC affirms.
The deputy sheriffs testified that they believed the home was occupied only by Charles Crawford. The officers testified that they thought that the property was in the exclusive control or possession of the defendant. It therefore is obvious that the sheriff’s deputies could not receive valid consent to search Crawford’s house from anyone other than Crawford. The record is devoid of proof that the sheriff’s deputies had any reasonable basis to believe that the grandfather possessed any authority whatsoever to consent to the officers’ second entry into Crawford’s residence.
We agree with the State that the search was legal as an emergency search under exigent circumstances. In Baker, we said three elements must be met for exigent circumstances: (1) there are reasonable grounds to believe that an emergency situation exists and that there is an immediate need for police assistance in order to protect life and property; (2) the primary motivation for the search is not to make an arrest and/or to seize evidence, and (3) there is some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or placed searched.
Baker also held that when police are properly authorized to enter a dwelling under the exigent circumstances doctrine, they are also authorized to return and take physical evidence that was in plain view during the initial search, which they could have seized at the time but for the emergency situation that allowed them to enter the dwelling in the first place.
There is no dispute that the exigent circumstances doctrine applied when the deputies first entered the Crawford’s residence. Based upon information Nicole provided, the deputies reasonably believed Sue’s life and safety were in danger, and their primary motivation for the search was to locate Sue.
After looking for Sue in the house and the abandoned house, they went back to Crawford’s house and collected evidence for about 30 to 45 minutes. Officers testified that a warrant was not sought because 1) it was an emergency with Sue still missing and 2) they did not have enough officers or time to look for Sue and get a warrant.
There was no unwarranted delay in time when the officers reentered Crawford’s residence, nor was there any expansion of the scope of the search. The fact that the officers did not seize the complained of items of evidence during their first entry of Crawford’s residence, is merely evidence of the exigency of the particular circumstances of this case. We find that the second entry into Crawford’s residence constituted a reasonable continuation of the original exigent search.
The thing to remember is that the plain view exception is a seizure exception. You were in a place you had the right to be and saw something that was immediately apparent (probable cause) as contraband or evidence of a crime. So when the officers re-enter the home, they are simply seizing items that they saw when searching for Sue. If, however, officers start searching the home instead of simply seizing items that were in plain view, they are risking suppression issues.
If you are in a gray area, you should reach out to your prosecutor for advice.