Supreme Court rules on emergency aid exception to Fourth Amendment

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday summarily reversed and remanded [opinion, PDF] a Michigan Court of Appeals decision that found officers violated a defendant's Fourth Amendment [text] rights when they entered his home. In a per curiam opinion, the Court relied on its 2006 ruling in Brigham City v. Stuart [opinion, PDF] to conclude that the officers correctly applied the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment:


It was error for the Michigan Court of Appeals to replace that objective inquiry into appearances with its hindsight determination that there was in fact no emergency. It does not meet the needs of law enforcement or the demands of public safety to require officers to walk away from a situation like the one they encountered here. Only when an apparent threat has become an actual harm can officers rule out innocuous explanations for ominous circumstances. But "[t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties." It sufficed to invoke the emergency aid exception that it was reasonable to believe that Fisher had hurt himself (albeit nonfatally) and needed treatment that in his rage he was unable to provide, or that Fisher was about to hurt, or had already hurt, someone else. The Michigan Court of Appeals required more than what the Fourth Amendment demands.

Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The case arose when officers were called to the home of Jeremy Fisher. Officers found a dented vehicle outside the home and blood on the vehicle and on clothing inside the vehicle. They observed Fisher through a window throwing objects and one of the officers entered the home, at which time Fisher pointed a rifle at the officer. Fisher was charged with assault and possession of a firearm during a felony and sought to suppress the officer's statement, arguing that the entry was illegal.

 

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