The defendant shot her husband and ingested a quantity of pills in a suicide attempt. She then called her adult daughter, informed her of the situation and requested help. The daughter immediately called emergency services. Several deputies arrived at the defendant’s home in response to this information. The deputies entered the house, made a cursory search and discovered the defendant’s deceased husband. The defendant was lying unconscious in another room due to an apparent drug overdose.
The officers immediately transported the defendant to the hospital and secured the scene. Thirty-five minutes later, two members of the homicide unit arrived and conducted a follow-up investigation of the homicide and attempted suicide.
The deputies conducted a search of the house and found, among other things, a pistol inside a chest of drawers in the same room as the deceased body, a torn up note in a wastepaper basket in an adjoining bathroom, and another letter (alleged to be a suicide note) folded up inside an envelope containing a Christmas card on the top of a chest of drawers.
Whether these discoveries are admissible under the “murder scene” exception to the search warrant?
No. There is no “murder scene” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
Although the homicide investigators in this case had probable cause to search the premises, they did not have a warrant. Therefore, for the search to be valid, it must fall within one of the narrowly and specifically delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. In Mincey v. Arizona, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the existence of a murder scene exception. The Court noted the government may make warrantless entries onto premises where it reasonably believes a person within is in need of immediate aid, and that the government may make a prompt warrantless search of the area to see if there are other victims or a killer is on the premises.
Likewise, the warrantless search and seizure conducted at the home of the defendant by investigators who arrived at the scene thirty-five minutes after the woman was sent to the hospital is not valid on the ground that there was a diminished expectation of privacy in the woman’s home. The woman’s call for medical help cannot be seen as an invitation to the general public that would have converted her home into the sort of public place for which no warrant to search would be necessary. Therefore, the warrantless search after the defendant was taken to the hospital was unreasonable.
469 U.S. 17, 105 S. Ct. 409 (1984)