Monday, May 22, 2006

Brigham City v. Stuart rev'd 9-0 by Supreme Court

Brigham City V. Stuart, 547 U.S. ___ (2006)

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Utah Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision in the Brigham City case. The Court's opinion, Chief Justice Roberts writing, is short and very straightforward: The test for reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is an objective one. "An action is 'reasonable' under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer's state of mind, 'as long as the circumstances , view objectively, justify [the] action." (quoting Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 138 (1978)). The only exception the Court noted was for "programmatic searches conducted without individualized suspicion," like drunk driving checkpoints. But in those cases, the subjective inquiry goes to the purpose of the program and not to the mind of the individual officer.

The Court then held that the officers' entry was objectively reasonable:

In these circumstances, the officers had an objectivelyreasonable basis for believing both that the injured adult might need help and that the violence in the kitchen was just beginning. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment required them to wait until another blow rendered someone unconscious" or "semi-conscious" or worse before entering. The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties; an officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided.

The Court also held that their manner of entry was reasonable:

After witnessing the punch, one of the officers opened the screen door and "yelled in police." Id., at 40. When nobody heard him, he stepped into the kitchen and announced himself again. Only then did the tumult subside. The officer's announcement of his presence was at least equivalent to a knock on the screen door. Indeed, it was probably the only option that had even a chance of rising above the din. Under these circumstances, there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment's knock-and-announce rule. Furthermore, once the announcement was made, the officers were free to enter; it would serve no purpose to require them to stand dumbly at the door awaiting aresponse while those within brawled on, oblivious to their presence.
Justice Stevens wrote separatete concurrence, arguing that while the outcome was correct, the case was not cert-worthy. He notes that the Utah Supreme Court will likely redecide this question in another case in the future and that it will use the Utah State Constitution to reinstate its holding in Brigham City. In essence, he seems to reject the long-standing rule that courts must expressly state when their decisions are based on state constitution law, and implicitly proposes that the Court reject cert on any case that could have been based on a state constitution.

Stevens misses the fact, however, that courts were split on whether the emergency aid doctrine required a subjective inquiry into the officer's motivationon for conducting the search or seizure. The Court noted:

We granted certiorari, 546 U. S. ___ (2006), in light of differences among state courts and the Courts of Appeals concerning the appropriate Fourth Amendment standard governing warrantless entry by law enforcement in an emergency situation. Compare In re Sealed Case 96-3167, 153 F. 3d 759, 766 (CADC 1998) ("[T]he standard for exigent circumstances is an objective one") and People v. Hebert, 46 P. 3d 473, 480 (Colo. 2002) (en banc) (considering the circumstances as they "would have been objectively examined by a prudent and trained police officer"),with United States v. Cervantes, 219 F. 3d 882, 890 (CA9 2000) ("[U]nder the emergency doctrine, '[a] search must not be primarily motivated by intent to arrest and seize evidence'" (quoting People v. Mitchell, 39 N. Y. 2d 173, 177, 347 N. E. 2d 607, 609 (1976)) and State v. Mountford, 171 Vt. 487, 492, 769 A. 2d 639, 645 (2000) (Mitchell test "requir[es] courts to find that the primary subjective motivation behind such searches was to provide emergency aid").


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