In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant asked the court to reconsider his guilty conviction for producing marijuana. Originally, the defendant was criminally charged after police officers searched his house in response to a 911 emergency call. On appeal, the defendant argued the search was warrantless, and, thus that the evidence officers found against him was illegally obtained. The higher court, considering this argument, ruled that the officers were allowed to search the defendant’s property without a warrant, given the officers’ concern that there was a potential emergency that needed their attention. The defendant’s appeal was subsequently denied.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, police officers involved in this case received an emergency call from 911 one evening while on patrol. The person on the other end of the phone yelled, “help!” and the officers were able to immediately trace the call to the defendant’s address. Concerned for the caller’s safety, the officers quickly drove to the defendant’s address.
When the officers arrived, they tried to enter onto the property but were blocked by a fence. Receiving no response to their warnings, the officers decided to jump the fence to enter the property. The officers jumped over the fence and did not immediately see any emergency, but instead smelled marijuana growing on the property. They noticed a marijuana grow tent, as well as a sleeping man lying on a cot with a rifle nearby. The officers left the property and obtained a search warrant, later returning to the home and finding growing marijuana plants as well as drug paraphernalia.
The State charged the defendant with five drug-related counts and three counts of misconduct involving weapons. The defendant’s case went to trial, and a jury found the defendant guilty of producing marijuana, a class 4 felony.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence of marijuana should have been suppressed at trial. The officers needed a valid warrant to search his home, said the defendant, and when the officers showed up at his home and jumped the fence, they were invading his private property without going through the proper procedures. Thus, the incriminating evidence should not have been used at trial, and the guilty verdict should be reconsidered.
The court noted that in general, an officer does have to obtain a warrant in order to search a person’s property. There is an exception, however, if the officer believes that someone might be in immediate danger on the property – in that case, no warrant is necessary. Here, the 911 call that the officers received was sufficient reason for them to believe that someone on the defendant’s property might need immediate assistance. Given this reasonable concern, the court decided that no warrant was necessary for the officers’ search.
The court then denied the defendant’s appeal, and the guilty conviction remained in place.
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