§ 11.04 Entry and Search of a Home

JurisdictionNorth Carolina
§ 11.04 Entry and Search of a Home

The Supreme Court has stated in ringing terms that "physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed."16Indeed, in no other circumstance is the requirement of a search warrant as jealously guarded. Nonetheless, exigent circumstances can justify a warrantless entry of a dwelling to make a felony arrest or to conduct a search related to a serious offense.

In Minnesota v. Olson,17 the Supreme Court concluded that a state court "applied essentially the correct standard" when it identified the following exigencies as circumstances justifying warrantless entry of a home: (1) hot pursuit of a fleeing felon; (2) imminent destruction of evidence; (3) the need to prevent a suspect's escape; or (4) risk of harm to the police or others, inside or outside the dwelling.

Warden v. Hayden18 provides a good example of how entry into a home and a full-scale search of the premises may be justified on exigency grounds. In Hayden, police officers had probable cause to believe that H, a man involved in an armed robbery, had moments earlier entered a particular house. An unspecified number of officers hurried to the address, knocked at the door, and were allowed to enter "without objection" by a woman living in the house. The officers spread out on both floors of the house and the basement looking for the suspect, in order to arrest him. H was discovered feigning sleep in a bedroom, where he was arrested. At the same time, other officers came upon and seized items related to the crime in other parts of the house.

The officers' warrantless conduct was justified by the Supreme Court because "the exigencies of the situation made the course imperative." The officers were in hot pursuit of an armed robber and speed was essential. This justified their warrantless entry of the house in order to make an arrest. Once they entered and began their search for the suspect, "only a thorough search of the house for persons and weapons could have insured that [H] was the only man present and that the police had control of all weapons which could be used against them or to effect escape."

In short, the exigency justified the warrantless entry, and the nature of the exigency defined the legitimate scope of the warrantless search after the entry. In this case, at a minimum, the police had the right to search any place in the home where the armed robber, anyone else who might interfere with the arrest...

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