STATE v. GARY RYDER, SC 18411

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk

 

     Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether the Warrantless Entry by the Police into the Defendant's Home was Justified Under the Emergency Doctrine Exception to the Warrant Requirement.  Officer Andrew Kelly was informed that a police dispatcher had received numerous telephone calls from a father in Vermont complaining that his son, who had traveled to Greenwich to meet friends, had gone missing.  He was also informed that the father believed that his son was at the defendant's home.  When he arrived at the defendant's home, Officer Kelly immediately noticed that there was a couch sticking partly out of the garage onto the driveway and a BMW convertible with its top down parked in the driveway.  Receiving no response after ringing the bells at both the locked security gate and the front door, Officer Kelly walked around the back of the house and approached a set of French doors.  He observed through those doors a cot on which there was bag of clothes that appeared suitable for a teenager and some video games.  Officer Kelly then entered the house through the French doors, which were not locked.  Upon reaching the second floor of the home, Officer Kelly entered a bathroom and noticed what appeared to be a dark figure in the tub through its frosted glass bathtub shower door.  Believing the figure to be the missing minor, he opened the tub door to find a crocodile or a large lizard in the tub.  He continued searching the house for the minor but did not find anyone home.  Subsequently, the defendant was charged with, inter alia, illegal possession of a reptile.  The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the warrantless entry and search of his home violated the federal constitution's fourth amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.  In response, the state argued that the warrantless entry and search of the defendant's home was justified under the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement.  The trial court agreed with the state and denied the motion to suppress.  Thereafter, the defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere to the possession of a reptile charge, conditioned on his right to appeal from the court's ruling on his motion to suppress.  On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court, in denying his motion to suppress, failed to consider certain facts that had come to light after the search that showed that no minor was ever in any danger.  The Appellate Court (114 Conn. App. 528) rejected the defendant's argument, stating that the reasonableness of a police officer's determination that an emergency exists is evaluated on the basis of the facts known at the time of entry.  Thereafter, citing the frantic phone calls by the father; the suggestion, based on the presence of the car and couch in the driveway, that someone was in the house; the lack of an answer at the front door; and the sight of a teen's belongings on the first floor, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress, ruling that Officer Kelly had a reasonable belief that a minor was in imminent danger inside the defendant's house and, thus, his warrantless entry and search of the house did not violate the fourth amendment.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the Appellate Court's decision.