SEARCH AND SEIZURE: WASHINGTON V. COMMONWEALTH (COA 8/3/2007)

WASHINGTON V. COMMONWEALTH
CRIMINAL:  SEARCH AND SEIZURE (EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES)
2006-CA-002095
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING
PANEL:  THOMPSON, PRESIDING; WINE AND BUCKINGHAM CONCUR
COUNTY: FAYETTE
DATE RENDERED: 8/3/2007

TC properly denied Washington’s motion to suppress evidence from warrantless search due to existence of exigent circumstances.  Here, officers were pursuing a suspected felony drug dealer into an apartment building when they heard a door slam in the direction that he had been running. Upon approaching the vicinity of where they believed the door had been slammed, they believed they smelled a strong odor of burnt marijuana emanating underneath Washington’s door. They announced that they were police and requested that the door be opened. Receiving no response and hearing movement within the apartment, the officer believed that the destruction of evidence of a felony might be imminent and decided to make a warrantless entry into the apartment to prevent the possible destruction of such evidence. 

While we conclude that an odor of burnt marijuana emanating from a residence standing alone does not justify the warrantless entry of that residence, officer’s entry into Washington’s residence under the facts of this case was justified as an exigent circumstance. From officer’s testimony, he was in hot pursuit of a felony suspect; he had a good-faith belief that the suspect had entered the apartment; he believed that drugs and buy money would be found inside the apartment; no one answered the door; he heard people moving around inside the apartment; and, ultimately, he believed that felony evidence might be destroyed if immediate action was not taken. Because these officers were in a situation where they reasonably believed that evidence of a serious crime might be destroyed, they properly disregarded the warrant requirement to prevent the possible destruction of evidence. U.S. v. Banks, 540 U.S. 31, 36-38, 124 S.Ct. 521, 157 L.Ed.2d 343 (2003).

Digested by Scott C. Byrd

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