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Exigency – Hot Pursuit – Reported Burglary in Progress

State v. Patrick E. Richter, 2000 WI 58, 235 Wis. 2d 524, 612 N.W.2d 29, reversing State v. Richter, 224 Wis. 2d 814, 592 N.W.2d 310 (Ct. App. 1999)
For Richter: Susan Alesia, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue/Holding:

¶29 There are four well-recognized categories of exigent circumstances that have been held to authorize a law enforcement officer’s warrantless entry into a home: 1) hot pursuit of a suspect, 2) a threat to the safety of a suspect or others, 3) a risk that evidence will be destroyed, and 4) a likelihood that the suspect will flee. Id. at 229. The State bears the burden of proving the existence of exigent circumstances. Id. at 228.

¶30 As in other Fourth Amendment cases, the determination of whether exigent circumstances are present turns on considerations of reasonableness, and we apply an objective test….

¶32 The exigent circumstance of “hot pursuit” is established “where there is an ‘immediate or continuous pursuit of [a suspect] from the scene of a crime.'” …

¶35 Hayden supports our conclusion that “hot pursuit” does not necessarily require that the officer personally witness the crime or the suspect’s flight from the scene….

¶36 Like the officers in Hayden, Berlin responded to a dispatch and picked up the trail of a fleeing suspect from an eyewitness account. His response to the scene of the crime was immediate, and his pursuit of the suspect was immediate and continuous upon his arrival on the scene and rapid collection of information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect. There is no evidence in this record of any delay in Berlin’s response or pursuit that would have interrupted the immediacy and continuity of the situation and therefore dissipated the exigency. We conclude that Berlin’s entry was justified by the exigent circumstance of hot pursuit.

As the quoted portion suggests, the police responded to a report of a burglary in progress at a trailer park. The victim told the officer that someone had broken into her trailer, and that she’d seen him flee into a trailer (Richter’s) across the street. The officer then saw signs of forced entry of Richter’s trailer. Some occupants opened the door, and directed the officer to the owner, Richter, who was sleeping. Richter gave permission to search. The officer found marijuana. ¶1. And as also indicated the court hold that the facts known to the officer supported entry on the basis of hot pursuit (the court, interestingly, not bothering to analyze entry in terms of “probable cause,” though that test is surely applicable). The court also seems to hold that entry was justified on the separate theory of “exigent circumstances implicating a threat to physical safety,” ¶40. The suspect had fled into Richter’s trailer, which had signs of forced entry; people were sleeping inside, “creating a situation fraught with potential for physical harm if something was not immediately done to apprehend the suspect,” ¶41. The court thus merges, without saying so, the emergency and exigent circumstances doctrines (in that exigency on the basis of physical harm is rough short-hand for “emergency”). This may seem, and might well be, a small thing, except that the court of appeals has construed Richter to change the way warrantless emergency entries (“the urgent need to enter because of the possible need to render immediate assistance or prevent harm”) are tested: State v. Walter Leutenegger2004 WI App 127.

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