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“Knock-and-talk” investigative technique and emergency aid exception save warrantless home entry

State v. Roger James Gollon, 2023AP86-CR, District 4, 7/27/23 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Gollon moved to suppress evidence police obtained after they entered his home without a warrant. The trouble, the court of appeals holds, with Gollon’s claim is that police utlized an accepted “knock-and-talk” investigating technique to gain entry to the curtilage of Gollon’s home and that “all remaining challenged conduct” was excused by the “emergency aid” exception to the Fourth Amendment.

At around 1:45 on a March 2021 morning, police received a report of a motor vehicle accident. When officers arrived they discovered what appeared to have been a single-car crash. However, no vehicle remained at the scene. Instead, a front bumper with a license plate attached to it was left behind. A records check revealed that the license plate was linked to Gollon, who resided “a few doors from the crash scene.” Three officers proceeded to Gollon’s residence and knocked on the door and rung the doorbell. One of the officers also walked around the front of the house and looked through garage window and saw a vehicle parked inside that appeared to match the bumper left behind at the scene of the crash. Another officer observed a person’s feet on the floor inside the residence “sticking out from a doorway.” Gollon eventually “got up and answered the door” and “invited” the officers inside where he discussed the crash with the officers and admitted that he had been drinking.

SCOTUS approved the “knock and talk” investigative technique in Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1,  8 (2013). This “technique” is not a search because it is premised on the implicit license a visitor or neighbor would have with regard to the curtilage of one’s home. The factors used to consider whether police conduct is permissible include (1) the time of day, (2) the number of officers present, (3) the show of authority, and (4) officer persistence. (Op., ¶¶28-29).

Here, the court explains that while officers did show up to Gollon’s home around 2:00 a.m., the timing of of their arrival was merely dictated by the late hour of the accident. While multiple officers were involved, the court also concludes that no evidence supported Gollon’s argument that the officers were so aggressive to override the scope of the knock and talk technique. The court ultimately concludes that the totality of the circumstances were less intrusive than what the court upheld in City of Sheboygan v. Cesar, 2010 WI App 170, 330 Wis. 2d 760, 796 N.W.2d 429, which also consisted of knocking and ringing a doorbell for approximately five minutes. (Op., ¶¶29, 35-37).

Next, the court addresses the “emergency aid exception,” which allows a warrantless intrusion when a government official reasonably believes that a person is in need of immediate aid or assistance. (Op., ¶45) (citing State v. Ware, 2021 WI App 83, ¶¶20-22, 400 Wis. 2d 118, 968 N.W.2d 752). The court concludes that when one officer observed “the feet of a pupine person on the floor who appeared to be motionless and not initially responsive to the knocking and ringing, a reasonable person in the position of the officers would have believed that there was an immediate need to provide aid or assistance to the supine person due to actual or threatened physical injury and that immediate entry into the house was necessary to provide that aid or assistance.” (Op., ¶46). While Gollon eventually got to his feet and came to the door, the court posits “that does not take away from the objectively reasonable, high level of concern about a potential medical emergency” that a reasonable officer would have had under the circumstances. (Op., ¶49). This exception, the court holds, excused an officer’s shining of a flashlight into Gollon’s home and another officer’s peering through an attached garage window and the other attempts to make contact with the “supine person” inside the home. (Op., ¶50).

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