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PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant
JEREMY FISHER, Defendant-Appellee
March 25, 2008
Before: Talbot, P.J., and Cavanagh and Zahra, JJ.
Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 04-000969.
Before: Talbot, P.J., and Cavanagh and Zahra, JJ.
In this prosecutor's appeal, plaintiff appeals by delayed leave granted from the circuit court's order granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence. We affirm. This case is being decided without oral argument in accordance with MCR 7.214(E).
Defendant was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, MCL 750.82 , and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b , when a police officer opened the front door of a residence and defendant pointed a rifle at him. The charges were dismissed, however, when the trial court granted a motion to suppress the evidence of what the police observed in the house, on the ground that that evidence was the product of an unlawful search. Plaintiff appealed to this Court, which held that the trial court had erred in deciding the suppression motion without conducting a full evidentiary hearing. People v Fisher, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued December 20, 2005 (Docket No. 256027). On remand, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing, then again granted the motion to suppress.
Evidence obtained in the course of a violation of a suspect's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is subject to suppression at trial. People v Cartwright, 454 Mich. 550 , 557-558; 563 N.W.2d 208 (1997). See also Const 1963, art 1, §� 11. In reviewing a trial court's decision following a suppression hearing, we review the trial court's factual findings for clear error, but review the legal conclusions de novo. See People v Abraham, 234 Mich.App. 640 , 644; 599 N.W.2d 736 (1999).
Plaintiff maintains that the police were justified in conducting the warrantless search in question, insofar as they acted out of concern that someone inside the home might be in need of medical assistance. Plaintiff thus invokes the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement, whereby a police officer may enter a building to assist someone in need of immediate aid. People v Davis, 442 Mich. 1 , 25; 497 N.W.2d 910 (1993); City of Troy v Ohlinger, 438 Mich. 477 , 483-484; 475 N.W.2d 54 (1991). However, the scope of the permitted entry is governed by the emergency. Id. at 484. Accordingly, the police "may not do more than is reasonably necessary to determine whether a person is in need of assistance, and to provide that assistance." Davis, supra at 26.
At the evidentiary hearing, a police officer recounted that a pedestrian had complained to him and his partner of a man "going . . . crazy," and that at the location in question, the officer found defendant "walking around the residence screaming and throwing stuff." The officer added that the house had three "smashed out" windows, with broken glass still on the ground. According to the officer, as he approached the house, he observed some damaged fence posts, and a parked truck whose front [*2] was "smashed." The officer further testified that there was some apparently fresh blood on the hood of the truck, on some clothes inside the truck, and on the back door of the residence. According to the officer, defendant refused to answer a knock, then, when the police persisted and asked if he needed medical attention, answered with profanity. The officer described noticing a cut on defendant's hand. The officer explained that the police decided to enter the residence, because of indications that there was an injured person on the premises, and because they did not know if there was anyone else inside. The officer testified that he opened the front door, upon which defendant pointed a rifle at him.
On cross-examination, the officer admitted that he had not known whether defendant drove the truck at the scene, how the fence was damaged, or whether anyone in the house actually needed medical assistance. The officer further admitted that he observed no large quantity of blood in view, but rather mere drops.
The trial court concluded, "based on what I've heard here, I'm even more convinced" that the search in question was an improper entry, and thus that its duty was to suppress the evidence of the resulting gun-pointing incident. We agree.
Although there was evidence that there was an injured person on the premises, the mere drops of blood did not signal a likely serious, life-threatening injury. This is particularly so given that the police observed a cut on defendant's hand, which likely explained the trail of blood, but also that defendant was very much on his feet and apparently able to see to his own needs. Because "physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed . . .," United States v United States Dist Court, 407 US 297 , 313; 92 S.Ct. 2125 ; 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972), the trial court correctly recognized that the situation the police witness described in this case did not rise to a level of emergency justifying the warrantless intrusion into a residence.
Plaintiff alternatively argues that, even if the police officer acted unlawfully in forcing entry into the residence, the evidence of defendant's assaultive response was nonetheless admissible.1 However, this argument was not raised below, and therefore is not preserved for appellate review. See People v Carines, 460 Mich. 750 , 767; 597 N.W.2d 130 (1999); People v Grant, 445 Mich. 535 ; 520 N.W.2d 123 (1994). Moreover, an appeal by right following a remand is limited to issues arising from the remand. People v Jones, 394 Mich. 434 , 435-436; 231 N.W.2d 649 (1975). In this case, the scope of the remand was limited to obtaining a decision on the legality of the warrantless intrusion into the residence on a full evidentiary record. Because the proper opportunity to raise this alternative argument, even as an unpreserved issue, was in the first appeal, it is not properly before this Court in the second.
Mark J. Cavanagh, Brian K. Zahra
I respectfully disagree with the majority opinion, as I believe the police were justified in entering [*3] defendant's home pursuant to the emergency aid and/or community caretaker exceptions to the warrant requirement. Consequently, I would reverse the trial court's order granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence.
Testimony demonstrated the police received a call regarding a disturbance in the area. While proceeding to the location, police were stopped by individuals that indicated a man was "going . . . crazy" at the identified location. Upon arrival at the scene, the officer observed the residence involved had several broken windows, apparently of recent origin. Also observed, within the immediate periphery of the house were damaged fence posts and a parked vehicle with a "smashed" front. In addition, the officer observed fresh blood on the hood and clothes inside of the vehicle, and a small amount of blood on one of the entry doors to the residence.
When the officer knocked on the door and inquired whether defendant needed assistance, he was met with profanity. Defendant neither confirmed nor denied the need for medical assistance. The officer observed, through a window, that defendant was walking around inside the residence while screaming and throwing items. The officer also testified that he believed he observed a cut on defendant's hand. The officer could hear items breaking but could not determine or identify what items defendant was throwing or their target. The officer further determined that one door to the residence was locked and another was barricaded by furniture.
Believing either defendant or someone else in the home might be injured or in need of assistance, the officer attempted to enter the home. He pushed open the barricaded front door approximately twelve to eighteen inches, which was sufficient for him to observe inside the residence. The officer saw defendant with a dog, seated in the bedroom, and at this point defendant pointed a rifle at the officer who immediately retreated and did not attempt further entry.
The majority opinion appears to rely on the trial court's findings that the officer could not know or determine whether defendant had actually driven the damaged vehicle and whether the problems with the fence posts were of a recent occurrence in affirming the suppression order. In addition, it was noted that the amount of blood observed by the officer was not large and therefore did not "signal a likely serious [or] life-threatening injury." As a result, the majority concurred with the trial court's determination that "the situation the police witness described in this case did not rise to a level of emergency justifying the warrantless intrusion into a residence." However, this ruling appears to confuse the need for only a reasonable and articulable basis for entry under the emergency aid doctrine rather than exigent circumstances or with the necessity for probable cause in conducting a residential search when criminal activity is suspected. In response to this appeal, defendant further contends the police were not motivated by concern regarding the need [*4] to secure medical assistance based on the fact that they did not seek or call for a medical unit to the scene and awaited the procurement of a warrant before attempting another entry into the residence.
In accordance with the emergency aid exception to the search warrant requirement, police may enter into a dwelling or residence without a warrant if they reasonably believe that someone inside requires immediate aid or assistance. People v Beuschlein, 245 Mich.App. 744 , 756; 630 N.W.2d 921 (2001). Police are required to "possess specific and articulable facts" supporting their determination of the need to render immediate aid, and may only do what is reasonably necessary to determine whether an individual actually requires assistance and to provide that assistance. Id. Unlike other recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement, under the emergency aid exception police are not required to have probable cause for their entry. People v Davis, 442 Mich. 1 , 11-12; 497 N.W.2d 910 (1993). Rather, it is deemed sufficient if the police possess a reasonable belief that an individual is in need of immediate assistance before entering the dwelling. Id. at 20.
I believe the testimony and evidence provided was sufficient to support the officer's attempted entry into defendant's home. Police had received a call regarding a disturbance at the location and en route citizens indicated an individual at the location was engaged in disruptive and suspect behavior. Upon arrival, the officer observed damage to a vehicle and structures on the property, evidence of recent blood and defendant behaving in a bizarre manner, screaming and throwing objects with broken windows to the residence. When police attempted to engage defendant and verbally ascertain his need for assistance they were met with expletives and received neither affirmance nor denial of the need for aid. Contrary to the majority's opinion, I believe police had sufficient reasons, which were articulated, to attempt entry into the home. There is no requirement, with regard to the emergency aid exception that the emergency solely constitute an immediate medical emergency. Given defendant's bizarre behavior, it was reasonable for officers to surmise that he might need medical or psychiatric intervention to prevent him from incurring injury. Further, the mere observation of an injury to defendant's hand is not dispositive of his need or lack of need for aid. The very fact that police observed an injury, coupled with defendant's behavior, made it reasonable to surmise that he may have additional injuries, which were not readily observable, particularly given the condition of the vehicle and fence posts surrounding the home. Defendant argues on appeal that the failure to secure emergency medical services to the scene was inconsistent with assertions by police necessitating entry in accordance with the emergency aid exception. Contrary to this assertion, the physical withdrawal by police merely complied with the limitations imposed by this doctrine [*5] to intrude no further than was reasonably necessary to ascertain defendant's physical condition was such that the provision or need for medical intervention could be delayed.
In addition, I would assert that the actions of police were also justified in accordance with the community caretaking exception as recognized in Davis. Davis, supra at 20-26. The Court indicated that the emergency aid exception comprised an aspect of the more general "community caretaking functions" routinely engaged in by police. Id. at 25. The community caretaking function has been defined as encompassing "a variety of functions" that are "separate" and distinct from police "duties to investigate and solve crimes." Id. at 20. Notably, "[w]hen police, while performing one of these functions, enter into a protected area and discover evidence of a crime, this evidence is often admissible." Id. The Davis Court opined "that rendering aid to persons in distress is one of the community caretaking functions of the police" and "that entries made to render aid to a person in a private dwelling were part of the community caretaking function." Id. at 23. Contrary to defendant's assertion, the application of this doctrine does not require or necessitate that police be responding to known or suspect criminal activity before acting or intervening.
Given the reports made to police and their own observation of defendant's bizarre and oppositional behavior, along with the circumstantial physical evidence of injury or accident, it was neither unreasonable nor unjustified for police to attempt to enter defendant's home to intervene and determine the severity of his behavior and whether it was escalating and constituted an endangerment to himself or someone else, albeit heretofore unidentified or undetected, as part of their routine community caretaking functions. As a result, I would reverse the trial court's order suppressing the evidence subsequently obtained by police.
 See People v Daniels, 186 Mich.App. 77 , 82; 463 N.W.2d 131 (1990) ("the exclusionary rule does not act to bar the introduction of evidence of independent crimes directed at police officers as a reaction to an illegal arrest or search" [dictum]). But see People v Dillard, 115 Mich.App. 640 , 642; 321 N.W.2d 757 (1982) (a defendant who pointed a gun at a police officer in response to an illegal entry, but who neither fired the weapon nor otherwise caused any injury, acted reasonably and thus did not commit the crime of felonious assault).