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Exigency: “Safety Exception”

State v. Robert A. Ragsdale, 2004 WI App 178, PFR filed 8/5/04For Ragsdale: Timothy T. Kay


¶14. Moreover, the questioning of the boy here presents a situation analogous to the safety exceptions set forth in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 654-60 (1984), and its progeny. Quarles set forth a public safety exception to the requirement for Mirandawarnings. Id. The Supreme Court held that police were not required to give Mirandawarnings to a person whom they reasonably suspect may have access to a weapon before they ask questions designed to locate the weapon and neutralize its danger. Id. at 657. Wisconsin extended the exception to include both a private safety situation and the safety of the police. See State v. Kunkel, 137 Wis. 2d 172, 189, 404 N.W.2d 69 (Ct. App. 1987) (“rescue doctrine”); State v. Camacho, 170 Wis. 2d 53, 72, 487 N.W.2d 67 (Ct. App. 1992) (Quarles exception applies to safety of police involved), rev’d on other grounds, 176 Wis. 2d 860, 501 N.W.2d 380 (1993). The public policy supporting the safety exceptions rests in the logic that the need to protect life and neutralize volatile situations outweighs the need for the Miranda rules. Camacho, 170 Wis. 2d at 71-72.

¶15. Although the instant case does not involve a Miranda challenge, the reasoning underlying the exception still applies. Like Quarles, where the suspect hid the gun, the police here were confronted with a situation where, moments before they arrived, Ragsdale had pointed a shotgun at his neighbor threatening to shoot. They were told by the victim that Ragsdale was in his home, probably trying to hide the gun. When the police went to question Ragsdale, they discovered the young child. Thus, they conducted a search and investigation to determine whether a weapon was present. These circumstances clearly present a public and private safety concern-both for the safety of the victim neighbor and the minor child. It was not unreasonable or improper for Stein to ask the child if there were any guns in the house. This questioning did not constitute a search, did not exceed the scope of Ragsdale’s consent, and did not constitute coercion, deceit or trickery.

“Thus, they conducted a search and investigation to determine whether a weapon was present. … This questioning did not constitute a search[.]” Was or wasn’t the gun seized as product of a “search”? Can’t tell. Nor does it seem wise, or necessary, to begin importing Miranda exceptions into fourth amendment analysis. We’re running into enough definitional problems in this area as it is, without throwing more hair-splitting doctrines into the mix. Couldn’t the court have just said “community caretaker,” and let it go at that?


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