Pursuant to the protections of the Fourth Amendment granted to every resident of this country, police cannot enter a residence or a closed bedroom without a warrant. This would violate the Fourth Amendment. There are certain exceptions to that warrant requirement, such as the existence of “exigent circumstances”.
[t]he term, exigent circumstances, does not lend itself to a precise definition but generally refers to those situations in which law enforcement agents will be unable or unlikely to effectuate an arrest, search or seizure, for which probable cause exists, unless they act swiftly and, without seeking prior judicial authorization.
There are three categories of circumstances that are exigent: those that present a risk of danger to human life; the destruction of evidence; or the flight of a suspect.
The exigent circumstances doctrine, however, is limited to instances in which the police initially have probable cause either to arrest or to search.
So, when one day police officers knocked on the door of the third floor apartment at 239 Knickerbocker Avenue, Stamford, CT, the following was known to them:
- GPS data from a third-party’s cell phone, which was believed to be in the suspect’s possession, suggested that the suspect had been in the general vicinity of that address (not that apartment) for some unknown period of time in the past 41 hours, and
That the resident of the third floor apartment had recently been keeping company with two black men in her apartment. The suspect, naturally, was black.
Since the police were searching for a murder suspect from New Jersey, who they believed to be armed and dangerous, they thought it permissible to enter the bedroom without obtaining a warrant, because of “exigent circumstances”. But that’s just sophistry.
As Justice McDonald’s blistering dissent [PDF] states:
Thus, at the time the police knocked on Valvo’s apartment door, all they reasonably believed was that [the murder suspect] Singer possibly was in possession of a cell phone, that this cell phone had been in the vicinity of 239 Knickerbocker Avenue at some moment in the preceding forty-one hours, and that a man who has the same skin color as Singer had been staying in the third floor apartment of 239 Knickerbocker Avenue for an unspecified period of time.
You’d think, now, that the name of the case is State v. Singer. It isn’t. It is State v. Kendrick [PDF]. Mr. Kendrick is one of those unfortunate black men who happened to be in the apartment at that time and in whose possession a gun was found after this warrantless search.
Mr. Singer was arrested in New Jersey, where the crime of murder had been committed. Further, the cell phone used to ping the general vicinity of Knickerbocker Avenue in Stamford? Never found in Stamford.
But this is all the information relied upon by the prosecution to convince a judge that exigent circumstances existed: the possibility that a black suspect had been in the vicinity of an apartment building and the knowledge that one of the apartments therein had a few black men in them.
That, the majority opinion states, is enough to lead officers to believe that there exists “a risk of danger to human life”.
Can you every imagine any court saying that about white people? The suspect is white, and armed, and that apartment building there has white people in it, so go ahead and burst into any room you want because officer safety!
Of course not. This stands only because being black carries with it the subtext of being a criminal. And, as this Court is wont to do, the result justifies the means: there was a gun, after all. So he was a criminal and he was dangerous.
The dissent makes the point that the police and prosecution may have had further evidence to tie those residents in that apartment to the cell-phone and the murder suspect, but chose not to present it. If that’s the case, this opinion is even more troubling.
What this signals, in that event, is that all the police and prosecution have to proffer to a trial judge in order to circumvent the Constitution is that the suspects are black. That, alone, is sufficient to justify an officer’s fear that the suspect is a danger.
We already know that in Connecticut minorities cannot freely walk the streets anymore without being suspected of criminal activity. Now minorities can’t sleep in their apartments at night without fear of cops busting in without any probable cause. Because our Court has affirmed that being black is the same as being armed and dangerous.