In response to an emergency telephone call, officers went to a state park where they found the defendant sitting outside a cabin with apparent injuries. The officers went into the cabin and found the body of a woman with fatal head wounds. Some officers took the defendant to a hospital while other officers closed off the area and searched the cabin and the area around it. The officers spent more than 16 hours inside the cabin, took photographs, collected evidence, and searched through the contents of the cabin. During the search, the officers found a briefcase and opened it. The briefcase contained evidence that incriminated the victim’s husband, the defendant.
Whether the discovery of a body authorized the officers to engage in the warrantless search of the defendant’s cabin?
No. After a homicide crime scene is secured for investigation, the officers are not entitled to make a warrantless search of anything within the crime scene area.
The Court held that after a homicide crime scene is secured for investigation, the officers may not make a warrantless search of the crime scene area. The Court reaffirmed its long held position that there is no such “homicide crime scene” exception. In Mincey v. Arizona, the Court noted that officers may make warrantless entries into premises if they reasonably believe a person is in need of immediate aid and may make prompt warrantless searches of a homicide scene for possible other victims or a killer on the premises. However, the Court explicitly rejected any general “murder scene,” “homicide scene,” or “crime scene” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The officers would have been entitled to remove the victims for medical attention, secure the premises, and then obtain a warrant to conduct a search.
528 U.S. 11, 120 S. Ct. 7 (1999)