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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2012 > State v. Roberson — Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Mo

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State v. Roberson — Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Montgomery counties), Nov. 2, 2012

Question: When multiple peace officers have secured the premises, may they search a suspect’s luggage for a firearm without a warrant?
Quick Answer: No, the allegation that there is a firearm on the premises does not create exigent circumstances if the scene is secured. A warrant is needed to search.
Facts: Officers were dispatched for a domestic violence call. The victim told officers that the suspect, Cordero Roberson, had threatened her with a gun, and that Cordero was taking a shower. The victim explained that the gun was either with Roberson in the bathroom or in one of Roberson’s two bags in the living room. The officers entered and announced their presence. They heard loud music coming from the bathroom and the sound of the shower running. The officers quickly secured the home while Roberson remained in the bathroom. While one officer watched the bathroom door with his gun drawn, another officer searched Roberson’s suitcase and found a Colt .380 semiautomatic firearm. Roberson moved to suppress the gun based on the warrantless search.
Why this case is important: This court found that no exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless search of Roberson’s suitcase. The exigent or emergency circumstances exception justifies a warrantless entry in a variety of situations, including:
  • When entry into a building is necessary to protect or preserve life
  • To prevent physical harm to persons or property
  • To prevent the concealment or destruction of evidence
  • When someone inside poses a danger to an officer’s safety
Here, there was no ongoing emergency at the time of the search, as the officers had their guns drawn, the home had been secured, and the victim was safely outside. Plus, searching the suitcase would not have increased officer safety because, had the gun not been there, its whereabouts were still unknown. Once the officers secured the home, they should have called for a search warrant while continuing to secure the premises and restrict Roberson’s access to the home.
Keep in mind: Officer safety should always be your top priority. And here, the officers did what would come naturally to anyone: They had a tip about the location of the firearm and they attempted to secure it. But once you have the scene under control, you’ve got to start thinking about your Fourth Amendment training before taking any further action. Since the premises were secure, there was no “potential emergency” that justified a general search. 
Visit the Second District Court of Appeals website to read the entire opinion.