Criminal Law – Case Law Update – Warrantless Searches

free-vector-scales-of-justice_099380_Scales_of_justiceOn July 1, 2015, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued an opinion dealing with warrantless searches of a home.  In State v. McHenry, 272 Or App 148 (2015), police responded to a call regarding a fight at a house party.  They found several intoxicated minors outside of the house and were told that Defendant was the “host” of the party.  The police knocked on the front door, which swung open.  They entered the house and ordered everyone outside.  They found Defendant inside and told him to stay for an interview, but he left instead.  At trial, Defendant challenged the warrantless entry into the house, arguing that the evidence that he disobeyed the police officers’ command to stay for an interview should be suppressed.  The trial court did not agree, and allowed the evidence, finding that there was probable cause that Defendant had furnished alcohol to minors and exigent circumstances supported the warrantless entry.  The Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the police officers did not have probable cause to believe Defendant had furnished alcohol to minors, rather than the minors bringing the alcohol themselves.

Probable cause means that “the arresting officer subjectively believes that it is more likely than not that an offense has been commit- ted and that belief is objectively reasonable.”  State v. Williams, 178 Or App 52, 60, 35 P3d 1088 (2001)

Exigent circumstances are those in which police must “act swiftly to prevent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall a suspect’s escape or the destruction of evidence.”  State v. Stevens, 311 Or 119, 126, 806 P2d 92 (1991)