State v. DeMarco
Reasonableness Of Warrantless Entry Into Home Was Disputed
Criminal Law | Constitutional Law | Evidence
- Connecticut Supreme Court
- SC 18738
- Apr 22 2014 (Date Decided)
- Eveleigh, J.
Imposing upon officers, responding to an emergency situation, the obligation to contact the station and obtain information that may be in a police file, is not consistent with the purpose of the emergency exception to the fourth amendment’s warrant requirement. Michael DeMarco appealed from his conviction on cruelty to animals, claiming that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless entry into his residence. Agreeing, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment. The state appealed challenging the standard applied and deference afforded to the trial court’s factual findings. Splitting four to three, the majority of the Supreme Court reversed the judgment, clarifying the standard and finding substantial evidence supported the trial court’s findings. The trial court stated its rationale for its findings and reasonably reached its conclusions from the evidence presented. The facts found supported the conclusion that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer would have believed that an emergency existed in the defendant’s home. The evidence established that Stamford’s animal control officer, Tilford Cobb, arrived at the home knowing the defendant had not responded to notices left 10 days earlier or returned calls. Cobb considered this unusual because the defendant normally responded. Cobb saw the notices still on the porch and vehicle the defendant usually drove. A neighbor indicated he had not seen the defendant for days. Mail overfilled his mailbox. Cobb noticed an unusual horrible smell. When Cobb knocked, the door opened. He found “feces all over the floor” and dogs barking. Cobb called police. Sergeant Thomas Barcello conducted a preliminary investigation and contacted Stamford Fire Department for immediate assistance, concerned about the unidentified odor. The fire department entered the dwelling with protective gear. The odor and open door would suggest to a reasonable officer something was amiss. The majority found the Appellate Court’s determination improper that the trial court’s findings were clearly erroneous that Barcello did not have the defendant’s cell phone number available before entering the residence and could not obtain it because of the situation’s immediacy. The majority found it inappropriate to apply the collective knowledge doctrine to require the officers to contact animal control and obtain the cell number before entering. Disagreeing, Justice Palmer, with whom Chief Justice Rogers and Justice Zarella joined, dissented.