Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

McGough: Community Caretaker Exception Inapplicable

In U.S. v. McGough, No. 04-12077 (June 15, 2005), the Court (Cox, Edmondson, Birch) held that the "community caretaker" exception to the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless searches of home did not permit police to enter into an apartment without a warrant and without consent. The Court held that the defense motion to suppress the marijuana and firearm found in the apartment should have been granted, and reversed the conviction.
The police arrived at the home in response to a telephone call from the defendant’s scared 5-year old daughter, whom the defendant had locked in the apartment when he went out to buy pizza. The police unlocked the door, placed McGough under arrest for reckless conduct, and called the daughter’s aunt. While outside the apartment, the police noticed a heavy burglar door and a mounted surveillance camera. They asked the defendant for consent to search his home, which he declined. While waiting for the aunt to arrive, the police entered the apartment, ostensibly to help the daughter find some shoes, and found a firearm and marijuana. The police then sought a warrant and seized the marihuana and fiream, and another firearm, and more marihuana.
The Court recognized a "community caretaker" exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. This exception applies when "exigent circumstances" require police to respond to a situation at a home. The Court found no such circumstances in this case. "There was no immediate threat." The daughter’s need for her shoes was not a compelling enough exigency to justify a warrantless entry by police into McGough’s home.
The Court further found that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply. This exception applies when a warrant issues after officers engage in "objectively reasonable law enforcement activity." Here, the warrant issued after police engaged in an unlawful entry. "In such a situation, the search warrant affidavit was tainted with evidence obtained as a result of a prior, warrantless, presumptively unlawful entry into a personal dwelling." Consequently, the evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful entry must be suppressed.