This is yet another case reminding us why it is important to get a warrant.  The facts of the case are very interesting.  A police officer in Puerto Rico (Rodriguez) was accused of domestic violence against an ex-girlfriend who reported the misconduct through a wife of another officer.  Presented with evidence of threatening texts on a cellphone, the district attorney ordered Rodriguez to be disarmed and arrested. Without obtaining an arrest warrant, two officers went looking for Rodriguez and discovered he lived at his mother’s house. When they approached the house, Rodriguez was calm and not belligerent. When they told Rodriguez he needed to surrender his service weapon and come with them, Rodriguez informed the officers the weapon was in his bedroom and he would retrieve it.  Two officers followed him into the house to retrieve the weapon and seized the weapon as well as a GoPro camera, a cellphone, and laptop while in the house. The laptop contained evidence of not only the domestic violence, but also images of Rodriguez engaged in sexual acts with minors.

In his trial for the production of child pornography, Rodriguez asserted the warrantless entry was unreasonable and was unsupported by an exception to the warrant requirement. At the trial court level, the government argued both consent and exigent circumstances. The trial court determined exigent circumstances existed and denied the motion. In an opinion by First Circuit Judge Thompson (that is refreshingly written in plain English) the First Circuit disagreed noting several important facts. First, Rodriguez was very cooperative and the officers were not threatened by him (as indicated by the fact they did not place him in handcuffs). Furthermore, the entire family was being very cooperative and cordial. In fact, it was Rodriguez’s sister who told the police where her brother lived and took them to the house. More importantly, there was ample time to get a warrant. A short quote from the case itself best sums it up:

No emergency, no urgency, no actual or threatened violence or gun violence, no armed suspects, no fleeing, no split-second decisions by police in tense moments, no legal reason not to get a warrant. At bottom, the facts of this case simply do not square with our exigent circumstances case law, and it was error to deny the motion to suppress on this basis.

The court reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress and remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether Rodriguez gave officers consent to enter the house.

Editor’s Note: The presumption of reasonableness with a warrant is a great thing to have and the presumption of unreasonableness presents a tough burden (as this case points out). Don’t take shortcuts and rely on exigency circumstances to overcome the presumption of unreasonableness. Get a warrant!

To read or download the full opinion CLICK HERE

Key Phrases: Warrantless Arrest, Entry into Dwelling, Exigent Circumstances