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Supreme Court hears arguments on warrantless police entry in emergency

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday heard oral arguments in Brigham County v. Stewart [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], a case in which the Court will clarify the type of emergency situation required to justify a warrantless entry made by police without knocking and announcing their presence. Four police officers in Brigham County, Utah, entered a home without a warrant screaming “Police!” when they observed a violent situation unfolding between household members through a window. They had tried to get the attention of the occupants before entering to no avail. Four adults arrested were all charged with misdemeanors – disorderly conduct, intoxication, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In argument, the court seemed to shy away from setting the standard police can use during emergencies to enter homes without warrant, and instead focused on the noise as a justification for the warrantless entry made without knocking. Several justices seemed likely to reverse the 2005 Utah Supreme Court ruling [text] that had granted a motion to suppress, with Justice Souter asking, “Isn’t there something bizarre about saying reasonableness requires a totally futile gesture?” and Justice Scalia remarking, “Why isn’t screaming, ‘Police,’ enough?” Defense counsel argued that police needed a warrant to enter the party and should still be required to make their presence known outside of the house. The Department of Justice supports the warrantless entry and argued that police officers do not have to be “spectators to escalating violence.” AP has more.

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