STATE v. MICHAEL ANGELO DEMARCO, SC 18738
Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk
Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether Motion to Suppress Evidence was Properly Denied Based on the Emergency Doctrine Exception to Warrant Requirement. A Stamford animal control officer, who had received complaints about the defendant's keeping of dogs at his residence, went to the defendant's home to follow up on a notice that he had left at the house ten days earlier that directed the defendant to contact the animal shelter. The officer saw that the notice was still on the porch and that the mailbox was overflowing. He also heard barking from inside the house and detected a strong feces odor. In addition, he learned from a neighbor that the defendant had not been seen in several days. Receiving no response to his knocking, the officer contacted headquarters. About one hour later, the police entered the defendant's house without a warrant and seized evidence that resulted in the defendant's being charged with several counts of cruelty to animals. Following the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his home, the defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere, and he was convicted of two counts of animal cruelty. On appeal to the Appellate Court (124 Conn. App. 438), the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly found that the warrantless entry of his home was justified under the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement and wrongly premised its finding that the police reasonably believed that the entry was necessary to help someone in need of immediate assistance on erroneous factual findings. The Appellate Court concluded that the trial court's findings that the defendant’s cell phone number was not available to the police and that the immediacy of the situation prevented them from attempting to contact him before making a warrantless entry were clearly erroneous because, although the police did not have the defendant's cell phone number with them at the house, his number could have been readily obtained at the animal control office, and, since the authorities were at the defendant's home for nearly one hour prior to entering it, the police had ample time to obtain the number and to attempt to contact him before entering. The Appellate Court further concluded that the evidence did not support the trial court's finding that an objectively reasonable police officer would have believed that an emergency existed such that a warrantless entry was necessary to help someone in immediate danger. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the trial court. The Supreme Court will now decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the trial court improperly denied the defendant's motion to suppress.