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State v. Geisler

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 11, 1990

STATE of Connecticut

Page 1284

Argued Feb. 14, 1990.

Page 1285

[22 Conn.App. 143] Richard Emanuel, Branford, for appellant (defendant).

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Eugene Callahan, State's Atty., and Warren Murray, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).

Page 1286


[22 Conn.App. 144] NORCOTT, Judge.

The defendant was charged, by substitute information, with driving while under the influence of liquor in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(2), assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60d and evading responsibility in violation of General Statutes § 14-224(a). The prosecution arose out of a motor vehicle accident involving the defendant's automobile and a motorcycle. After a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty on all three counts. The defendant appeals only from the judgment of conviction of driving while under the influence of liquor and assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle; he does not appeal from the judgment of his conviction for evading responsibility.

The defendant claims (1) that the trial court should not have denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained after a warrantless arrest, (2) that the evidence was insufficient to establish the defendant's guilt of General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(2) and 53a-60d, and (3) that the court erred in its instructions to the jury on General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a), 53a-60d and 14-242. We reverse the trial court's judgment.



The narrow issue regarding the defendant's first claim is whether the so called "emergency doctrine" justified the warrantless entry into the defendant's home. The following evidence was adduced at the hearing on the motion to suppress. On July 24, 1986, at approximately 3 p.m., the victim, Mark Brunstad, was operating a motorcycle westbound on Long Lots Road in Westport. At the intersection of Long Lots Road and Bayberry Lane, the victim was involved in an accident with a red Peugeot station wagon that was travelling east on Long Lots Road; the victim was injured in the accident.

[22 Conn.App. 145] After the accident, the victim observed the red Peugeot leave the scene, heading north on Bayberry Lane. When the police arrived, the victim gave them a description of both the vehicle that hit him and the driver of that vehicle. The victim described the driver of the Peugeot as an older man with gray hair and glasses. He gave no indication that the driver was injured or appeared intoxicated. He stated only that the driver stopped, looked back at him, and then drove away.

When Officer Michael Barrett of the Westport police department arrived at the accident scene, he observed an overturned motorcycle and the victim being attended to by emergency personnel. He further observed glass debris, a piece of trim and the front grille of a Peugeot. Sergeant Leonard Rummo of the Westport police department told Barrett that the victim had been hit by a red Peugeot station wagon that had fled the scene of the accident.

After assisting in traffic control for approximately twenty minutes, Barrett was dispatched to check driveways on Bayberry Lane in an attempt to locate a vehicle matching the description given by the victim. Approximately one mile from the accident scene, in a driveway adjacent to a house on Bayberry Lane, Barrett observed a red Peugeot station wagon. He ran a check on the vehicle's registration and was advised that the vehicle was registered under the name of Geisler at that address.

The Peugeot was parked in the driveway with its door ajar and the keys in the ignition. The left front fender of the vehicle was dented, it was missing a piece of trim, the left headlight was broken, the plastic front grille was missing and hair fibers were observed on the front fender.

[22 Conn.App. 146] Officer Gordon Hiltz of the Westport police department, who had also been dispatched to check driveways in the area, shortly thereafter, arrived at the Bayberry Lane home to assist Barrett. Upon his arrival, he noted that the Peugeot's radiator was warm, consistent with its having been recently operated.

Page 1287

Observing no one in the area, the officers circled the house and then approached the front door of the residence. The inner front door was open, but the outer screen door was closed. The officers rang the doorbell, knocked on the door, and shouted through the screen door. They received no response from anyone in the house, and they again walked around the perimeter of the residence, knocking on the windows in an attempt to arouse someone, if someone should happen to be in the house. They still received no response. Thereafter, the officers returned to the front door and again knocked on the door and yelled into the house. Again, they received no response.

At this point, the officers discussed the possibility that the operator of the Peugeot may have been injured and might be in need of assistance. They subsequently made a warrantless entry into the defendant's home. [1]

At about 3:30 p.m., Barrett and Hiltz opened the closed screen door and entered the house "at the same time" and "for the same purported reason"--the possible injuries sustained by the operator of the Peugeot. They entered the kitchen, and yelled out "Anyone home?" but received no response. After walking into [22 Conn.App. 147] the house, from their vantage point in the kitchen, they could see across a hallway into a bedroom, where someone was lying on the bed. They again called out, but received no response. They then entered the bedroom, where they found the defendant, fully clothed, apparently either asleep or unconscious on the bed. There was an odor of alcohol in the bedroom.

The officers then shook the defendant to wake him up in order "to see if he was all right." The defendant awoke, they asked him if he was all right, and he replied that he was. The defendant had no visible injuries, nor did he complain of any, and the officers determined that he was not injured from the accident.

While still in the bedroom, Barrett, who was in uniform, asked the defendant if he had been drinking, and the defendant responded "Yes." In response to Barrett's further questioning, the defendant conceded that the red Peugeot outside was his and that he had been operating it. Barrett then asked the defendant when he had operated the Peugeot, and the defendant answered "I got home about an hour ago." All of these questions were asked in the bedroom, Before the defendant had been advised of his Miranda [2] rights.

Barrett and Hiltz then asked the defendant to accompany them outside, and the defendant complied. Once outside, Barrett asked the defendant if the red Peugeot was the car he had been driving, and the defendant answered in the affirmative. The defendant was then asked if he was involved in an accident, and if he was driving the car when the damage occurred. The defendant responded in the negative. At that point, Barrett placed the defendant under arrest, handcuffed him, placed him in a patrol car, and advised him of his rights.

[22 Conn.App. 148] A


Prior to the trial court's ruling on the defendant's motion to suppress, the parties, at the urging of the trial court, stipulated to the following: (1) probable cause existed for the defendant's arrest at the time of the warrantless entry and (2) the defendant was arrested inside his home by police who entered without a warrant. [3] The trial court found that "exigent circumstances"

Page 1288

existed to justify the warrantless entry by the police. The exigent circumstances found by the court were the officers' "reasonable belief" that the defendant's "life was endangered," that the defendant might attempt to flee, and the danger of destruction of evidence. The court further concluded that even if the police did not have exigent circumstances to enter the house, the blood alcohol results, the videotape of the defendant's arrest, and the defendant's statements to the police were not the "fruit of an illegal arrest" and were, therefore, admissible.

We first note that the state has conceded in its brief, and we agree, that there is no support for the court's findings regarding the risks of destruction of evidence and the defendant's flight, and that such findings cannot be justified on appeal. We, therefore, need address only the issue of whether the police officers reasonably believed that the defendant's life was in danger. Although the court, in its ruling, relied on the case of State v. Harris, 19 Conn.App. 174, 561 A.2d 459, cert. denied, 212 Conn. 814, 565 A.2d 537 (1989), in which this court set forth the standards for "exigent circumstances," we agree with the parties to this appeal [22 Conn.App. 149] that the court confused "exigent circumstances" with the "emergency doctrine" in concluding that the warrantless entry was justified.



It is fundamental that " 'physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed....' " Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1379, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980), quoting United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 2134, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972); see also State v. Gallagher, 191 Conn. 433, 443, 465 A.2d 323 (1983). Warrantless searches and seizures inside a home are presumptively unreasonable; see Payton v. New York, supra, 445 U.S. at 586, 100 S.Ct. at 1380; and the state bears the burden of showing that "exigent circumstances" exist to justify the entry into a private home for the purpose of conducting a search or effecting an arrest without a warrant. State v. Klauss, 19 Conn.App. 296, 300, 562 A.2d 558 (1989); State v. Enright, 17 Conn.App. 142, 147, 550 A.2d 1095 (1988).

The "emergency doctrine" is well established in the law of search and seizure. See Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978); State v. Klauss, supra; 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure (2d Ed.1974) § 6.6(a), pp. 697-702. Pursuant to this doctrine, police may enter a home without a warrant only "when they reasonably believe that a person within is in need of immediate aid." (Emphasis added.) Id., 19 Conn.App. at 301, 562 A.2d 558. "[G]iven the rationale for this very limited exception, the state actors making the search must have reason to believe that life or limb is in immediate jeopardy and that the intrusion is reasonably necessary to alleviate the threat." Good v. Dauphin County Social Services, 891 F.2d 1087, 1094 (3d Cir.1989). The reasonableness of a police officer's determination[22 Conn.App. 150] that an emergency exists is evaluated on the basis of facts known at the time of entry. See W. LaFave, supra, 698. The test is an objective one. See State v. Guertin, 190 Conn. 440, 453, 461 A.2d 963 (1983).

This court recently described the test to be employed in "emergency doctrine" cases as "whether, under the totality of the circumstances, a well-trained police officer reasonably would have believed that a warrantless entry was necessary to assist a person inside in need of immediate aid." (Emphasis added.) State v. Klauss, supra, 19 Conn.App. at 302, 562 A.2d 558. After a thorough review of this entire trial record, we conclude that the trial court's finding of a justifiable warrantless entry into the defendant's home cannot be supported by the "emergency doctrine."

In support of our conclusion, we specifically note that Barrett and Hiltz conceded that, aside from the possibility of injury, there existed no other emergency circumstance for a warrantless entry. "[T]here is

Page 1289

a significant difference between a police entry for the purpose of making an arrest or searching for evidence incident to a criminal investigation and an entry for purposes of rendering ...

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