In 1997, Edward Baker‘s children awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Baker violently assaulting their mother, Cinester Baker. According to the eldest child, LaTonya (12 years old), Cinester told her to run from Baker, but Baker got to the door before LaTonya could get out of the apartment.
Cinester and LaTonya, along with the other two children, Patrice (11 years old) and Lakesha (10 years old), then ran into the children’s bedroom where they tried to barricade themselves behind the door. As they were doing so, Baker retrieved a shotgun from its hiding place under a couch.
While Baker tried to break down the door, Cinester and the children tried to jump from the second floor window to escape. LaTonya was knocked unconscious, apparently due to back injuries, and Patrice was temporarily stunned from falling on her stomach. Baker broke through the bedroom door, went to the window and fired the shotgun at Cinester.
Baker then came downstairs, shot Cinester again, and forcibly dragged the injured LaTonya back up to the apartment before leaving the scene with her. Patrice was able to get away to a neighbor’s apartment. These events were witnessed at least in part by several of Baker’s neighbors including Latrina Travis, Jennifer Clay and Misty Tillis. Baker was soon captured by police, and LaTonya and Cinester were taken to the hospital where Cinester died of her injuries.
Madison County Deputy Sheriff James Gilmer was the first officer at the scene. In response to reports that one or more of the girls might still be in the apartment, Gilmer entered the apartment and did a brief visual inspection. A few hours later, while other officers were pursuing Baker, Perry Waggener, an investigator with the Sheriff’s department, entered the apartment without a warrant and videotaped the interior and the view from the window out of which Baker opened fire.
At trial, Baker sought to suppress the videotape as the fruit of an illegal search. The trial judge overruled his motion on the theory that the apartment was part of the crime scene and thus a warrant was not necessary.
Baker was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued the videotape of his house was illegal. MSC affirmed.
One exception to the fourth amendment is the exigent circumstances exception which we said in Smith v. State, 419 So.2d 563 (Miss. 1982) applies when three elements are met:
(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 place searched.
Baker concedes that Deputy Gilmer’s initial search of the apartment was permissible as there were exigent circumstances necessitating the search in order to protect and preserve life. Baker argues that Waggener’s subsequent entry to videotape the scene to preserve evidence was too remote in time from Gilmer’s and so the exigent circumstances exception does not apply.
At trial, the circuit court admitted the tape on the grounds that the apartment was part of the crime scene. The State concedes, and we agree, that there is no crime scene exception and that the circuit court appears to have applied the wrong legal standard. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), expressly rejected the idea of a murder scene exception to the Fourth Amendment.
In Taylor, police entered a dwelling in which a victim had been fatally burned by her boyfriend. One officer walked through the house, left briefly to search for the boyfriend, and then returned with a camera to take pictures of the scene. About 45 minutes later, police went through the house a third time, collecting various pieces of physical evidence.
We upheld the search’s constitutionality, relying on the same reasoning applied earlier in Smith: From the time of their initial entry, the officers of the Jackson Police Department were engaged in only one search. That search had only one goal: locating the victim (and assisting her, if not too late). The actions of the officer and other members of the mobile crime lab (after the re-entry of the apartment) were merely to effectuate the physical seizure of articles in plain view which the officers would have been able to seize had not the circumstances been so exigent.
There was no unwarranted delay in time in Taylor, nor was there any expansion of the scope of the search. The fact that the actual physical taking of the items into the custody of the police was effectuated by an evidence technician who was trained to preserve the evidentiary value of the objects, rather than by the first officers to view the objects, is not significant.
In other words, 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.
In our case, no physical evidence was taken at all. The officer who videotaped the scene testified that he did not in any way tamper with anything in the apartment once he proceeded inside to videotape it. Instead, the videotape simply allowed the jury to see exactly what the police saw during their initial search of the premises. This issue is without merit.