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State v. Robinson

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

January 23, 2014



Donald H. Marden, Superior Court Justice

This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion to suppress statements made by the Defendant in response to questions by law enforcement officers. Defendant asserts that the presence of the officers in his home without an arrest warrant, without a search warrant and without consent, in the absence of exigent circumstances, caused his statements to be obtained as a result of the illegal warrantless entry and should therefore be suppressed.

On April 13, 2013, on or about 11:30 in the morning, a patrol deputy of the Kennebec Sheriff's Office was made aware of a victim at Maine General Hospital describing allegations of a particularly brutal and prolonged domestic assault by the Defendant in this case. With that information and other details, the Officer went to a location on the Hallowell Road in Chelsea at a double-wide mobile home residence. His stated purpose was to interview the Defendant who had been named by the victim as the perpetrator of the assault. The Officer knocked on the door without obtaining a response. He looked into a window to determine whether the Defendant or any other person was located therein. After a few minutes, the Defendant's mother appeared, introduced herself, and in response to the Officer's questions as to whether he was at the Defendant's residence, was told that he was. The mother tried to open the door and to receive a response without success. She expressed to the Officer a concern that she was worried the Defendant might hurt himself as he had made threats to do so in the past. At this point, the Defendant's father appeared, and the Officer asked if he had a key to the residence.

The father testified that he owned the land at the location but the Defendant had owned the double-wide mobile home for approximately ten years. Hearing dogs barking and seeing the Sheriff's vehicle in the yard of his son's home caused the father to come to the scene and knock on the door in an additional attempt to get a response. In response to the question, he advised the Officer that he did not have the key. The father was not asked to enter the home by the Officer but he offered to get the Officers into the house, and, although he did not hear the conversation between his wife, Defendant's mother, and the Officers, he was aware from conversations with this wife, that the Defendant 'was on a new medication and the mother was concerned as to what affect this new medication might have on the Defendant. Under those circumstances, the father clearly intended to enter the residence to determine the well-being of his son. He obtained a screwdriver from his own residence and effectuated the entrance.

Armed with the knowledge that a particularly violent episode had taken place, as indicated by a hospitalized victim, and supported by the information from the mother that there was some likelihood that the alleged perpetrator might harm himself, the Officer followed the father into the home. The mother's concern provided the exigent circumstances.

The father entered bedrooms, checked on a bathroom and found the Defendant in a second bathroom. The Defendant told his father that he just wished to relieve himself in peace. At this point, the Officers asked the father to leave the premises. Approximately five minutes later the Officers came out of the residence with the Defendant in handcuffs. The Officers did not have an arrest warrant or a search warrant.

"Warrantless entries into private homes for purposes of search, or arrest, are equally unreasonable, except in circumstances where an exception to the warrant requirement has been carefully drawn." State v. Boilard, 488 A.2d 1380 (Me. 1985) (citing M.R.S.A. Constitution Article I, section 5; U.S.C.A. Constitution Amendment IV. Recognized exceptions to warrant requirements exist in situations where entry and subsequent search are made pursuant to valid consent and where exigent circumstances exist. However, police intrusion upon private property to conduct search without warrant due to exigent circumstances is not justified in absence of knowledge of facts supporting proper determination of probable cause. State v. Boilard, 488 A.2d 1380.

"Exigent circumstances" exist to justify warrantless search where there is compelling need to conduct a search and insufficient time in which to secure a warrant. A police officer has a "legitimate role as a public servant to assist those in distress and to maintain and foster public safety." Police officers frequently engage "community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to violation of any criminal statute." State v. Dube, 655 A.2d 338 (Me. 1995) {citing State v. Pinkham, 565 A.2d 318 (Me. 1989). In accordance with those principles, the father of the accused had a right to enter the dwelling in response to an emergency and it was reasonable for the police to accompany that family member to assist in that emergency. Further, the officer had probable cause to believe an assault had taken place from the presence of the victim in the hospital and her statements.

Domestic violence assaults are commonly found to be highly emotionally charged events between intimate partners and the information available to the Officer of the extent of the violence in the instant case suggested the probability of a highly emotional circumstance with the accused as well. The stated purpose of the Officer was to go to the residence and ask such preliminary questions as would satisfy himself that the Defendant was the person being accused by the victim and was in a position to have committed the alleged domestic assault. Arriving at the premises with the knowledge of the violence of the assault and receiving information of the possibility of the threat to the well-being of the accused perpetrator and relying on the exigent circumstances that were provided to him by the parents of the accused, the court finds the entry and arrest was lawful.

While the testimony was that the building was not owned by the father, the land on which it was located was owned by the father and the familial relationship between the accused and the father who effected the forcible entry of the home was an emergency justifying the trespass.

The court did not receive testimony regarding the nature of the conversation between the Officer and the Defendant inside the Defendant's home, except to indicate that the Officer asked preliminary questions sufficient to satisfy himself of the identity of the Defendant. It is undisputed that the Defendant was given no Miranda warnings at the time of the confrontation in his residence The defendant was in custody as soon as he was identified as the person name by the alleged victim. The absence of that warning rendered the responses by the Defendant to be inadmissible and therefore to be suppressed.[1]

The entry will be:

Defendant's Motion to Suppress any statements of the defendant prior to ...

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