Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Cooks: Warrantless Search Supported by Emergency Aid Aspect of Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

In United States v. Cooks, No. 18-10080 (Apr. 3, 2019) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Gilman), the Court upheld the denial of the defendant's motion to suppress.

The Court found that the warrantless search of a crawlspace nailed down by a makeshift plywood door was justified by the "emergency-aid" aspect of the exigent circumstances doctrine.  There was an armed standoff with a gang member that had evolved into a hostage taking situation, and the officers heard drilling sounds coming from the house.  After the standoff ended, and although the officers did not know one way or another, the Court found that they could have reasonably believed that the secured crawlspace contained additional hostages.  And prying open that crawlspace was proportional to the exigency, because the area was large enough to hide a person, and the search took no longer than necessary to verify that nobody was there.

Judge Gilman dissented, opining that nothing suggested that the officers believed or had reason to believe that the defendant was hiding hostages in the crawlspace, let alone that additional people were inside the house.  He disagreed with the majority's reasoning that the officers could have reached that conclusion because they could not have definitively ruled it out.