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A Better Partnership
February 07, 2013

COA Opinion: Community caretaker exception to warrantless entry applied to search of home based on neighbor's concerns

In People of the State of Michigan v. Hill, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the suppression of evidence and resulting dismissal of a manufacture of marijuana charge, holding that the community caretaker exception to the warrant requirement was satisfied under the facts of the case. Police responded to a call by Defendant's neighbor expressing concern for Defendant's well-being. When police officers arrived after midnight, the neighbor explained to the officers that she had not heard the typical sounds of Defendant working at night, and that Defendant's car had been unused for several days. The police noted the leaves on Defendant's car, that he had old mail in his mailbox, and that his home lights were on. Police repeatedly knocked on doors, yelled through a window, and called the home phone number. Receiving no response, the officers decided to enter the home for a welfare check. Upon opening a closet door 'tall enough for a person,' the officers found marijuana plants. The trial court suppressed the evidence based on warrantless entry, but the Court of Appeals held that the community caretaker exception applied under these facts. Critically, the Court found that the officers were motivated by a perceived need to render assistance, and that it was reasonable under the circumstances to conclude that the defendant might be in the home and in need of assistance. Additionally, the court of appeals held that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule would allow admission of the evidence even if the officers had violated the Fourth Amendment.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Markey took the view that the community caretaker exception should not apply, finding no support for the officers' conclusion that defendant might be in his home or in need of immediate assistance. Judge Markey found that the circumstances known to officers merely indicated that the homeowner might be away for a weekend trip, and that there was no emergency situation which could justify warrantless entry.

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