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Police claim warrantless search of home justified, court agrees

A 2010 drug arrest in Detroit based on a warrantless search of a man's home was the subject of a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision. In a split decision, the court ruled that the man's constitutional rights were not violated by the police search, even though the officers did not have a search warrant giving them permission to enter his home.

The drug arrest took place after police received a call from a neighbor of the defendant's. The neighbor reportedly was concerned because he or she had not seen the neighbor for a few days. The neighbor also reported seeing the defendant's cats looking out the window, which the neighbor apparently took as a sign that the neighbor was in trouble.

Police officers went to the defendant's house and called his name but there was no answer because he was not home. The officers forced entry into the home and searched the premises, including a closet where a marijuana plant was growing. Police eventually tracked down the defendant and arrested him for drug possession.

The question on appeal was whether the police search fell under an exception to Fourth Amendment's requirement of a search warrant to enter someone's residence. Prosecutors said the search was valid because officers believed the defendant may have been in trouble. The Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in the government's favor, comparing the case to a 2011 Michigan Supreme Court case involving firefighters discovering marijuana in someone's home while searching for a huge water leak.

But in a dissent, one of the judges said that the neighbor's call was not enough to establish that an emergency situation was taking place. The judge said that the current case was different than the 2011 case because there was no obvious emergency justifying police intrusion into the defendant's home.

Source: WWJ-TV, "Court: Drug Charge OK In Worried Neighbor Case," Feb. 7, 2013

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