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People v. Smith – Warrantless Entry – California Supreme Court Values the Right of Privacy

modern car with doors open - warrantless entry victory in the california supreme courtThe California Supreme Court recently tackled an interesting case (People v. Smith) involving warrantless entry, related to the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, it provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Here’s what happened in the recent case People v. Smith.

People v. Smith (March 12, 2020) – Warrantless Entry Defense Victory

In a case recently decided on March 12, 2020, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, decided in People v. Smith that “an unoccupied running car in a driveway warranted an investigation. . .” by the police.  However, the situation did not reasonably either suggest a crime or that an emergency was in progress to justify the officers opening of a door into a residence without a warrant.  When the cops opened the door, allegedly looking to see if anybody was in trouble, injured, or there was criminal activity, the cops found lots of drugs and firearms.

Related: What To Do If Arrested for DUI

The Court held that the warrantless entry into the casita was objectively unreasonable because “an unattended car running in a driveway did not constitute exigent circumstances or suggest a medical emergency, and that the officer acted upon an unparticularized suspicion devoid of articulable facts,” and the Court suppressed the evidence.  The prosecution did not meet its burden to justify the search under the emergency aid, or exigent circumstances, or the good faith exception.  The prosecution did have an “objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant is seriously injured or threatened.”

This relates to limiting searches and requiring “reasonable suspicion”. It means that police need to have some evidence of crime, not just unusual situation, before they can lawfully invade privacy. It relates to having a sufficient reason to detain a driver.

This case is another example of the California Supreme Court valuing the “right of privacy” pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, over the right of society to protect itself through the police.  The courts have to balance between those two rights.

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