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Community Caretaker Exception to Warrant Requirement – Entry of Residence to Check on Occupant

State v. George Toland Ziedonis, 2005 WI App 249
For Ziedonis: Ellen Henak, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate

Issue/Holding: Police, responding to a “loose animal” complaint became sufficiently alarmed by the possibility the dogs’ owner was in need of assistance that their warrantless entry was justified under the community caretaker doctrine:

¶27      Like in Ferguson, the police “utilized alternative methods of confirming whether anyone was in the [residence] before entering.” 244 Wis. 2d 17, ¶21. In fact, it appears as though the officers did everything they could to avoid entering the house.

¶28      Regarding the amount of time that passed, much like Ferguson, where police waited for approximately half an hour before entering, the police here too gave Ziedonis more than enough time, indeed as much as an hour-and-a-half, to appear before entering.See 244 Wis. 2d 17, ¶5. Conversely, in Paterson, the officers appeared to have entered after finding out that there was no answer to a phone call.  See 220 Wis. 2d at 530.

¶29      Most importantly, … it was reasonable for the officers to conclude that there was a serious concern for the safety of the person inside. The officers’ observation that the back door to the residence was open at 2:00 a.m. clearly concerned them and made them feel as though there could be something wrong with the person inside. Not only did the officers face a situation where they had received no response from the occupant, even though they had reason to believe someone was present, and despite all of their attempts, the events also transpired in the early morning hours, in a high-crime area, by a residence where a door was open and the lights were on, and where the occupant’s dogs were running loose in the neighborhood. The situation was hence decidedly different from Paterson where the incident took place in the afternoon, in an area not considered high-crime, and where the only indication that something could be wrong was a vague phone call from a neighbor. See 220 Wis. 2d at 529. Adding to the inapplicability of Paterson, as the State points out, in Paterson the suspicion that a burglary was in progress implied only a concern for the property inside, whereas here the concern was about the physical well-being of the occupant. See id. at 530.

 

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