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Emergency Exception to Warrant Requirement – Kidnapping: Evidence Leading to Victim’s Location

State v. David M. Larsen, 2007 WI App 147, PFR filed 5/31/07
For Larsen: Jefren E. Olsen, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether the emergency doctrine supports warrantless entry of a residence not merely to look for the victim but also to search for evidence that would lead to her location.


¶22 Larsen next contends that even if the emergency doctrine justified a search for the children, the officers exceed the scope of a permissible emergency doctrine search when they searched the residence for information on the whereabouts of Jendusa-Nicolai and her two children. We are not aware of any Wisconsin case addressing the question Larsen presents—whether the emergency exception to the warrant requirement permits not only a search for the kidnap victim, but also for evidence that might lead to his or her location. Courts in other jurisdictions have considered this very issue and have approved warrantless searches of premises for evidence of the whereabouts of a kidnap victim who was reasonably believed by the police to be in imminent danger of harm.

¶27 We find these cases persuasive. The very nature of kidnapping investigations present “unusually compelling circumstances for emergency analysis…. The life, freedom and future of a human being [are] at stake. The victim, even if presently being adequately cared for and safe, could at any moment be harmed or be absconded to a point beyond discovery.” Oliver v. United States, 656 A.2d 1159, 1167 (D.C. 1995). Thus, it only makes sense that if it is permissible “to enter premises to rescue a threatened kidnap victim thought to be within, then surely it must likewise be permissible to make an immediate warrantless entry upon a reasonable belief that information therein will disclose where that victim is being held.” 3 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 6.5(d) (4th ed. 2004). Accordingly, we hold that the emergency doctrine permits officers investigating a kidnapping case to conduct a warrantless search if the officers possess an objectively reasonable belief that the particular search will result in finding the victim or evidence leading to the victim’s location.

The emergency didn’t end until the victim and her children were found, ¶30: “Further, it would have been unreasonable for the officers to cease their emergency efforts to locate the three potential kidnap victims in order to obtain a warrant. As noted, a kidnap victim is placed in continuing danger of harm at the hands of his or her captor. … Police need not delay rescue, where as here, they reasonably believe that a kidnap victim is being held and a search of the premises will lead to the victim or to information about the victim’s whereabouts.”


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