Evidence Pursuant to Warrantless Search Suppressed In Wisconsin
A Wisconsin judge granted our motion to suppress last week in a case involving the warrantless search of my client’s apartment. The state must now decide whether it’s worth taxpayers’ resources to prosecute a case without: 1) physical evidence, or 2) law enforcement’s testimony related to the unconstitutional search.
This case started when law enforcement responded to an anonymous complaint requesting a welfare check of my client’s residence. Two fully uniformed officers responded by driving to my client’s apartment. Upon the officers’ arrival, they found my client walking around outside. The officers approached my client and explained they received a request from somebody concerned about the conditions of my client’s residence. The officers asked for permission to go inside and look around. My client declined. That should have ended the officers’ inquiry.
Rather than applying for a warrant, the officers pushed the issue with my client. After ten minutes of the fully uniformed officers “talking” to my client about getting inside the apartment, my client opened the front door. What the officers found inside caused the state to file charges.
We immediate filed a motion to suppress. Our motion argued the officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered my client’s apartment without consent and without a warrant. As a result of this warrantless and unconsented search, we requested the court suppress all evidence obtained as a result of this constitutional violation.
Both officers who conducted the warrantless search testified at the motion hearing. The state argued the officers’ search, albeit warrantless, was justified by two exceptions to the warrant requirement: 1) the community caretaker exception, and 2) my client’s alleged consent.
The officers’ testimony did not convince the court.
In the court’s order, the judge prominently identified, “Physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.” Further, the burden of proof falls squarely on the state to show law enforcement’s warrantless search was justified under a clearly-delineated exception. In this case, the judge appropriately decided the state fell “significantly short” of meeting its burden. The court ruled that the community caretaker exception did not apply, as law enforcement began investigating a potential crime after they found my client. Further, the state failed to demonstrate how my client consented to the entry after she initially declined to let law enforcement into her home. The court granted our suppression motion and forbade the state from introducing the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless, unconsented search at trial.
This decision is a significant victory, as it demonstrates how fundamental the warrant requirement is in our criminal justice system. A defense attorney’s first question in cases involving evidence obtained by searches must be, “Did law enforcement get a warrant?” By answering that question in the negative in this case, we preserved my client’s constitutional rights. More importantly, we delivered a message to the government that violations thereof will not go unnoticed.