When Are the Police Allowed to Search Your Home Without a Warrant?

          In a recent case called Michigan v. Fisher, the United States Supreme Court  ruled that a police officer may enter a home without a search warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.

          In the Fisher case, police officers responded to a complaint of a disturbance.  When the officers arrived, a couple directed them to a residence where a man was “going crazy.”  After arriving and before entering the home, the officers saw the following:

  • A pickup truck in the driveway with its front smashed;
  • Damaged fence posts along the side of the property;
  • Three broken house windows;
  • Glass still on the ground outside;
  • Blood on the hood of the pickup, on clothes inside the pickup, and on one of the doors to the house;
  • The back door to the house was locked;
  • A couch blocking the front door;
  • Mr. Fisher inside the house screaming and throwing things; and
  • A cut on Mr. Fisher’s hand.

          When the officers saw the cut on Fisher’s hand, they asked him if he needed medical attention.  Fisher ignored their questions and demanded that they go get a search warrant.  One of the officers then pushed the front door open and went inside where he saw Fisher pointing a gun at him.

          Fisher was subsequently charged under Michigan law with assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

          After much litigation in the lower courts, Fisher’s case finally arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court where he argued that the officer who entered his home without a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

          Unfortunately for Mr. Fisher, however, the Supreme Court rejected his argument.  Citing to its earlier decision in the case of Brigham City v. Stuart, the High Court reiterated its previous ruling that law enforcement officers “may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.”

          Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed with the majority opinion and therefore wrote a dissenting opinion in which he pointed out that the officer who entered Fisher’s home had previously testified that he saw “mere drops” of blood outside Fisher’s residence and that he did not ask whether anyone else was inside.  Additionally, the officer did not testify that he had any reason to believe that anyone else was inside the house.

          Justice Stevens continued on to state that the trial judge who heard firsthand the testimony of the police officers “found the police decision to leave the scene and not return for several hours–without resolving any potentially dangerous situation and without calling for medical assistance–inconsistent with a reasonable belief that Fisher was in need of immediate aid.  In sum, the one judge who heard [the officer’s] testimony was not persuaded that [he] had an objectively reasonable basis for believing that entering Fisher’s home was necessary to avoid serious injury.”

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