Police in St. Louis responded to a 911 call reporting a burglary. When they arrived, they heard the home security siren and saw broken panes on the door windows. They also observed blood on the porch and a window shade through the broken glass. Police then entered the house to look for intruders or victims. As they were conducting this search that they referred to as a “protective sweep,” they found and seized a bag of white powder and other suspected drugs, drug paraphernalia, firearms, a security DVR system, a cell phone, and documents showing indicia of ownership. They then obtained a warrant and searched the DVR and found video evidence of the burglars. There were no people found in the house.
Williams, the resident of the house, was charged and convicted for the drugs and firearm found in the house. He sought to have the evidence suppressed, arguing the warrantless sweep of his home by the police was an unlawful search. He argued once the police entered and found no people inside, the “Fourth Amendment required them to leave.” Williams agreed that exigent circumstances permitted the initial entry into the house. Williams cited Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978) for the proposition that when exigent circumstances have dissipated, the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to leave evidence they discovered during the sweep.
The Eighth Circuit disagreed, noting that: “Nothing in that case requires officers to either immediately collect evidence while they are sweeping a house or leave evidence in the home following a protective sweep.” The Supreme Court in Mincey held the search was unconstitutional because it lasted for four days after the exigency had ended. In this case, the officers stayed for about an hour after they knew there was no one in the house to collect evidence they discovered during the protective sweep.
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