Monday, October 23, 2006

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Aarness 05SC237

Decision here.

   Police received a tip that Aarness was in an apartment, that he was armed with a gun, and that he had warrants for his arrest.  They verified that he had warrants, but didn't bother to look into whether or not he lived at the apartment.  They knocked on the door with guns drawn, and Aarness' brother answered the door.  Aarness was sitting in a chair with his hands shoved down between the cushions, and ignored orders to show his hands.  The police took everyone else out of the house, and eventually went into the apartment to arrest Aarness.  Aarness had drugs and a handgun magazine on him.  During a sweep of the apartment, the police found another person, more drugs, and a gun.

   Aarness moved to suppress all the evidence.  The prosecution argued that the police's entry was justified under Payton.  The trial court denied the motion, but the appelate court reversed that decision and suppressed the evidence because the police only satisfied half of Payton's requirements: they had reason to believe that Aarness was in the apartment, but they had no information at all regarding whether he lived there.  The prosecution appealed.

   The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that although the appelate court had correctly determined that Payton did not justify warrantless entry, exigent circumstances did.  Aarness argued that this was a police-created exigency, but the court disagreed.  Even though the police came to the door with guns drawn, it was Aarness' actions in refusing to show them his hands (combined with their knowledge that he was armed) that created the exigent circumstances.

   Previous to this case, the court had identified three exigent circumstances which justify entering a house: hot pursuit, destruction of evidence, and an emergency threatening the life or safety of another.  The court didn't think that any of these three were a precise fit for this case, so it described several factors that can be used to determine whether or not cases outside of those three constitute exigent circumstances: 1- whether a grave offense is involved (particularly a crime of violence), 2- whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed, 3- whether there exists a clear showing of probable cause to arrest the suspect, 4- whether there is a strong reason to believe the suspect is in the premises, 5- the likelihood that the suspect will escape, 6- whether entry is made peaceably, and 7- whether entry is made at night.  I'm not sure which side those last two are supposed to weigh on... seems like unpeacable entries and night entries would be the greater intrusion and might take more justification for that reason.  But it also seams like unpeacable entries and night entries would be more typical of exigency.  Oh, well... the court didn't see fit to elaborate on that point.

   In any event, the police weren't able to justify their entry under Payton like they tried to, but they squeaked by on exigent circumstances in this case.  The order suppressing the evidence was reveresed.