The Constitution is a hard taskmaster. To protect everyone from intrusions by the police and other law enforcement personal, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The police, wishing to search a person or premises need to have a search warrant, which requires a showing of probable cause to a judge that a crime has been committed or will be committed.
There are exceptions to the warrant requirement, as courts have recognized that in some cases, it would be unreasonable to demand the police obtain a warrant. A case from New Mexico demonstrates how mistakes by the police can result in prosecutions being compromised.
A defendant was involved in a collision with a group of motorcyclist while he was intoxicated. One man died and his wife was severely injured. The defendant was found by Sheriff’s deputies shortly after the crash in his home. Deputies entered the home with guns drawn and found him lying in bed. They arrested him on DUI charges and a chemical test indicated he had a blood alcohol content of 0.14. He was convicted of vehicular homicide and other charges.
The deputies did not have a warrant and the court of appeals found the seizure of the man was violation of the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.
The state argued that the “emergency assistance doctrine,” excused the lack of a warrant, which in Minnesota is called the “emergency-aid exception.” The court found this argument without merit, as the deputies had been told that the defendant had run from the accident scene, which suggests he was not in need of immediate assistance to protect his life.
The court noted the deputies had no specific information that indicated he had been injured, and they did not even know if he had been the driver. The truck he had been driving and the scene at his home further showed no signs of blood or significant, life threatening injury.
While those involved complained about the ruling, it is the police, not the courts that should be criticized for failing to follow well-established law on this issue. Prosecutor may appeal this decision or retry the man.
Source: kob.com, “State court ruling could let drunk driver who killed man in ’11 out of prison,” Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4, June 16, 2015