The Supreme Court has agreed to define more precisely the emergencies that can justify a warrantless police entry into a private home, the New York Times reports. The case is an appeal by the State of Utah from a Utah Supreme Court decision that four police officers violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure by entering a home to break up a fight. Police, in response to a neighbor’s complaint about a loud party, did not have a warrant and did not announce their presence before walking through an open back door. They arrested three occupants for disorderly conduct, intoxication, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor by allowing a teenager to drink.
The Utah trial court, appeals court and Supreme Court all ruled that the evidence of alcohol consumption could not be introduced at trial because of the illegal police entry. Supreme Court precedents have established many exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Two are at issue in this case: An exception for “exigent circumstances,” in which split-second judgments must be made by the police to prevent, for example, the destruction of evidence, and an emergency aid” exception, in which the police are permitted to act immediately to prevent injury or to assist an injured person. Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff, argues that the “subjective motivations of police officers” are irrelevant as long as the entry was “objectively reasonable.”