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COA holds emergency aid exception justified entry into garage where corpse was found

State v. Laverne Ware, Jr., 2020AP1559, 11/4/21, District 4 (recommended for publication; case activity (including briefs)

When the parties filed their initial briefs in this appeal, it was a community-caretaker case. But during briefing, the Supreme Court decided Caniglia v. Strom, which made clear that this doctrine doesn’t permit searches in the home (in the process invalidating some Wisconsin cases). So now–as the Caniglia concurrences foretold–it’s instead a case about the “emergency aid exception.”

Per the court of appeals, this “related” but “conceptually distinct” doctrine has two elements:

[U]nder the totality of circumstances, a reasonable person would have believed that: (1) there was an immediate need to provide aid or assistance to a person due to actual or threatened physical injury; and (2) that immediate entry into an area in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy was necessary in order to provide that aid or assistance.

(¶22 (citing State v. Rome, 2000 WI App 243, ¶16, 239 Wis. 2d 491, 620 N.W.2d 225)).

Also per the court of appeals, that standard is met here:

The following facts form an objectively reasonable basis for Sergeant Nicholas’ decision to search the garage. Mickey stated on the 911 call—and again to the officers in person—that he had observed a large amount of blood coming from a truck parked in the garage at the residence, although he had not seen a person or body in the vehicle. Mickey also informed the officers that Ware and his girlfriend, S.D., had recently been experiencing relationship troubles and Mickey had not seen S.D. since the previous night. Mickey further stated that he thought the blood might be that of S.D. and that Ware might have harmed her. Mickey indicated that Ware was presently at the residence, had been drinking, and had access to a firearm. In addition to Mickey’s statements, the officers gathered the following information while at the residence: Jones stated that Ware was not present at the residence; Ware was, in fact, present at the residence, which indicated that Jones had not been truthful about Ware’s location; and Ware stated to the officers “I am the one you are looking for.” Indeed, Ware reasonably concedes in briefing in this court that, “[a]dmittedly, the officers would have cause to be suspicious after Ware suddenly appeared” and by then, “the officers had good cause to be suspicious of what they heard from Jones.” Taken together, these facts provide an objective foundation on which an officer could reasonably believe that there was a potential victim of a domestic dispute in the garage that was in need of aid or assistance.

….

Under the second prong of the emergency aid exception, Sergeant Nicholas had an objectively reasonable basis to believe that “immediate entry” into the garage was necessary to provide aid or assistance to a person. See id. Even though the officers were investigating a potential homicide, Nicholas was not required to rule out the possibility that the person whose blood was seen by Mickey was still alive. State v. Kraimer, 99 Wis. 2d 306, 328, 298 N.W.2d 568 (1980) (holding that an emergency existed, even though the suspected victim had reportedly died four days earlier). Because Mickey had not reported seeing a body, Nicholas could reasonably believe that the person in the garage may still be alive and that swift action was necessary to assist that person. See id. (“Frequently, the report of death proves inaccurate and a spark of life remains, sufficient to respond to emergency police aid.” (citation omitted)). As a result, immediate entry into the garage was reasonably necessary to provide medical aid.

(¶¶24, 27)

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