Police responded to a domestic violence call and arrested defendant after they found his live-in girlfriend with a cut above her eye. Defendant argued that the police officers’ warrantless entry into his house was not justified by a valid exception to the warrant requirement and that the entry led to the eventual discovery of the controlled substances in his wallet when he was processed at the jail. In other words, defendant contends the controlled substances discovered in his wallet at the jail were “fruit of the poisonous tree” of the prior entry into his house. Accordingly, defendant concluded the trial court should have suppressed or excluded those substances from trial. The court determined that after being taken before the magistrate, defendant was arrested on a warrant issued by that judicial officer. Defendant was then committed to jail pending trial. The purpose of the deputy’s search was not to discover contraband so that he could charge defendant with a crime, but to secure the jail and its population and to inventory defendant’s possessions for safekeeping, a common process that is generally permissible, even as applied to inmates charged with minor offenses. Ultimately, the court ruled police did not violate defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when they found marijuana and heroin in his wallet when he was processed at the jail.
Mother was convicted of felony child neglect but that decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals. Mother lived in a trailer with her twin three-year old sons and boyfriend. One Friday night, mother, her boyfriend and his brother attended a party, leaving the twins in the care of boyfriend’s parents. Mother and boyfriend did not return until between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. because they went to another county to help boyfriend’s brother-in-law who was arrested after the party. Brother left the trailer about 8:00 a.m., after boyfriend’s parents both left. Boyfriend’s mother started work at 7:00 a.m. He stated that he left the twins playing in the living room and mother sleeping in an adjoining room with the door open. He locked the trailer door and closed the child gate on the outside deck. Brother stated neither mother nor her boyfriend was drinking at the party. At 8:40 a.m., a police officer found one twin naked wandering towards a busy intersection. He went to the trailer where he found the other twin playing on the deck. Two or three minutes passed before mother and boyfriend responded to police calling out and banging on the trailer. Mother acknowledged her son and explained she was unaware boyfriend’s parents had left. The trial court found mother guilty of felony child neglect because she knew the children could climb over the child gate on the outside deck. The Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s ruling saying there was no evidence to prove mother guilty of wanton or willful actions or reckless or indifferent disregard for her child’s welfare.
Police in a high-crime area followed a car with four African-American occupants and out-of-state tags onto private property and then blocked the car’s exit. Police questioned the driver and asked him to lift his shirt and consent to a pat-down search. The Trial Court denied defendant’s motion to suppress this evidence, reasoning that the initial encounter – prior to the discovery of the traffic violation – was consensual and therefore did not infringe on defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights (which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures). The Appeals Court concluded that because a reasonable person in defendant’s position would not have felt free to terminate the initial encounter with the officers, the Trial Court’s decision must be reversed. The fact that this was not a routine encounter, but one targeted at the defendant seemed particularly significant given the fact that the officers blocked in defendant’s car to effectuate the encounter. The court found that the police had seized not only the passenger who remained in the car but also the driver who had left it.
When an officer blocks a defendant’s car from leaving the scene, particularly when, as here, the officer has followed the car, the officer demonstrates a greater show of authority than does an officer who just happens to be on the scene and engages a citizen in conversation. Further, when the officers approached defendant, they did not ask if they could speak with him. Under the circumstances of this case, the Appeals Court concluded a reasonable person would not have felt free to walk away and ignore the officer’s nearly immediate “requests” that the person lift his shirt and then submit to a pat down search. Although the uniformed officers did not draw their holstered weapons or use a threatening tone, these circumstances would suggest to a reasonable person that the officers were not treating the encounter as routine, but were targeting defendant because he was engaged in “illegal activity.” The Appeals Court determined this violated the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights and reversed the Trial Court’s refusal to suppress a firearm and marijuana found by police. Without the marijuana and the firearm being admitted into evidence the defendant prevailed.