Friday, January 06, 2006

Utah gets a SCOTUS cert grant

Jeff Gray is a friend of mine and counsel of record for Utah in Brigham City v. Stuart, which he lost in the Utah Supreme Court. He just told me that the U.S. Supreme Court granted his cert petition.

I'm very happy for Jeff---and for search and seizure law in Utah.

A little about Brigham City:

Four Brigham City police officers responded to a complaint of a loud party. They arrived at the offending residence at about three o'clock in the morning. They traveled to the back of the house to investigate the noise. From a location in the driveway, the officers peered through a slat fence and observed two apparently underage males drinking alcohol. The officers then entered the backyard through a gate, thereby obtaining a clear view into the back of the house through a screen door and two windows. The officers saw four adults restraining one juvenile. The juvenile broke free, swung a fist and struck one of the adults in the face. Two officers then opened the screen door and "hollered" to identify themselves. When no one heard them, they entered the kitchen. After entering, one of the officers again shouted to identify and call attention to himself. As those present in the kitchen became aware of the officers, they became angry that the officers had entered the house without permission.

The officers subsequently arrested the adults. They were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, disorderly conduct, and intoxication. The defendants filed a motion to suppress which gave rise to this petition.

The State argued exigent circumstances and lost at every level, most recently in the Utah Supreme Court. In an opinion that considered both exigent circumstances and the emergency aid doctrine, Justices Nehring, Durham, and Parrish opined:

It is reasonable to believe that while still outside the house the police officers understood that a display of official authority would likely have the desired effect of restoring peace. That is in fact what occurred after the police entered the house. The spreading awareness of police presence ended the confrontation between the adults and the juvenile. As noted by the trial court, the officers made no attempt to knock before entering. While the trial court noted further that owing to the noise and tumult in the kitchen a knock "probably would not have been heard," the officers nevertheless gave no thought to the constitutional implications associated with where they announced their presence. On the July night of the incident, only a screen door separated the officers from the kitchen. We are left to speculate, although our foray into speculation is appropriate here, whether the officers could have achieved the two-fold objective of quelling the disturbance by making their presence known and honoring the constitutional integrity of the dwelling.

Justices Wilkins and Durrant dissented with this pronouncement:

[T]he Fourth Amendment does not prescribe paralysis when law enforcement officials are eyewitnesses to an ongoing assault and immediate intervention is necessary to prevent physical harm.

Watch for: Utah v. Stuart, ___ U.S. ___ (2006?).

update . . .

here's a story by the AP


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