Friday, January 10, 1997

Colorado Supreme Court Condon v. People 24554

Decided October 26, 1971.

   Mr. Chance, a landlord, went to his rental property and decided to water the lawn.  He went into the backyard to turn on the water, and noticed the smell of a dead body coming from a basement window.  He called the police.

   Three separate officers also noted the smell of a decomposing body coming from the basement window.  They tried to enter the house using Mr. Chance's key, but it didn't work.  They eventually broke into the house through the back door and searched for the dead body (they began their search on the top floor, then moved down to the main floor, including cupboards and cabinets and finding drugs and paraphernalia along the way.  Eventually, they made their way to the basement.  The court didn't seem to like the way the search was conducted).  No body was ever found, but there were chemicals found which produced a similar smell and were used in the manufacture of mescaline.  For some reason, now that all of this had been found, the police applied for a search warrant to search for the stuff they'd already found.  A day late and a dollar short.

   Mr. Chance's tenants were arrested a few days later.

   The defendants moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the search was illegal.  The people argued that the search was justified either as an administrative search in response to an emergency (the dead body), or alternately justified by Mr. Chance's consent.

   The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the smell of a decomposing body does not, by itself, justify warrantless entry.  If the body is decomposing, then any emergency has obviously passed.  It's too late to render aid, and they won't be any more dead in an hour or two.  The court noted that there is some health risk to the community, but this isn't the kind of pressing emergency that justifies warrantless entry.  The court noted that there was certainly probable cause in this case, but that there was plenty of time for the officers to go get a warrant to search for a dead body.

   The People's consent argument wasn't going anywhere, either.  The court pointed out that it was the defendants' Constitutional rights at stake, not Mr. Chance's, and therefore any waiver of those Constitutional rights had to come from the defendants and not Mr. Chance.  A landlord may not consent to a warrantless search of his tenant's residence.

   Finally, obtaining a warrant after the fact did nothing whatsoever to mitigate the fact that the whole search had been illegal.  The evidence obtained from this search was suppressed.


Wednesday, January 8, 1997

US Supreme Court Whiteley v. Warden 136


   This case establishes what has become known as the fellow officer rule (that an officer may rely on probable cause developed by a different officer when making an arrest).

   It's an interesting case because, although it was good for law enforcement in general, it was decided against law enforcement in this particular case.  Basically, some sheriff in Wyoming issued a bulletin stating that there was a warrant for Whiteley's arrest (and there was, although the complaint that the warrant was based on didn't actually contain enough information to establish PC).  An officer in Laramie arrested Whitelely , acting on the aforementioned BOLO.  

   The Supreme Court held that although the officers who actually arrested Whiteley were entitled to rely on information form other officers that he was subject to arrest, the arrest itself was still invalid because the sheriff who claimed to have PC didn't.