STATE v. KENNETH FAUSEL , SC 18249
Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford
Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether Trial Court Properly Determined That Police Officers' Warrantless Entry into the Defendant's House Was Justified
Under the Emergency Exception to the Warrant Requirement. In searching for fleeing motorist James Wayne, who was known to the police because of his prior arrests involving narcotics and weapons, Milford police officers spotted Wayne's vehicle backed into the driveway of the defendant's house. The officers knocked on the door and Wayne ultimately surrendered. Once Wayne was taken into custody, one of the officers conducted a sweep of the house. While checking an upstairs bedroom, the officer saw two bags on a dresser, which he recognized from his experience as bags often used in packaging crack cocaine. Based on his observations, the officer applied for a search warrant for the defendant's house. A subsequent search of the house resulted in the seizure of a number of items, including a shotgun and drug paraphernalia. The police then arrested the defendant. Prior to his trial, the defendant moved to suppress the seized evidence. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer who conducted the initial search testified that he determined that at least three individuals lived at the house by checking the mail in the mailbox and that Wayne was not one of them. He further testified that it appeared that Wayne had unlawfully entered the house, which led him to think that someone might be injured or in need of assistance inside the house. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, concluding that the search and the seizure were justified under the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement. It determined that in light of Wayne's furtive and desperate efforts to elude capture by the Milford police, the police acted reasonably in entering the defendant's home under the emergency doctrine. The defendant was then convicted, on a conditional plea of nolo contendere, of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell. The Appellate Court (109 Conn. App. 820) subsequently reversed the trial court's ruling. It determined that the record showed that Wayne had informed the police that no one else was inside the house and that his friend, the defendant, lived there. It further determined that Wayne provided the defendant's name as corroboration, which was consistent with the information that the officers had in their possession. It thus found that there was no evidence in the record to indicate that the officers had any reason to believe that someone was in danger or in need of assistance inside the house. It also stated that the mere concern that someone might be inside and in need of immediate assistance does not warrant police intrusion into a private dwelling under the emergency doctrine. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly reversed the trial court's suppression ruling.