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Community Caretaking Function and the Fourth Amendment

In 1999, California devised a new rule that stated, under the Community Caretaking Function, certain police searches and seizures were okay without a warrant. This new interpretation of the law was contrary to the United States 4th Amendment, and courts have recently abolished it – 20 years later!

Challenging Unauthorized Police Entry

In 1999, the California Supreme Court case of People v Ray dealt with a situation where police entered a home without a warrant because the door was open and the house appeared to have been ransacked/burglarized. Inside the home, police found cocaine and other contraband.

Ray argued that police violated the U.S. 4th Amendment by entering his home without consent or a warrant. At the time they entered the house, police had no information that potential victims were inside or that evidence was in the process of being destroyed. Such situations would typically authorize the police to enter a home under the doctrine of exigent circumstances. In Ray, however, the Court ruled that the police entry was authorized under “the Community Caretaking Function”, therebycreating this exception and sanctioning police behavior that previously would’ve been illegal.

Protections from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

It has long been the law of the land that police entry into a person’s home without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable/illegal under the California and Federal Constitution. Under the 4th Amendment, evidence that results from an unreasonable search is required to be suppressed. This means that the evidence seized may not be presented in trial against the defendant.

Entry into one’s home is the Chief Evil against which the 4th Amendment aims to protect. Thus, warrantless entry into a person’s home requires any evidence obtained from inside to be suppressed unless the entry fits into one of the well-established search warrant exceptions, such as exigent circumstances, consent, or hot pursuit.

Exceptions to Warrant Requirements

As discussed earlier, one exception that allows police to enter a home without a warrant is called exigent circumstances. Because of this law, police may enter a home, without a warrant, to prevent harm to a person or to halt the imminent destruction of evidence. If the police enter a home without a warrant under exigent circumstances, they may seize any illegal contraband they see and arrest the homeowner or occupants of said residence if there is also probable cause to arrest said individuals.

Police may also enter a residence if they have the individual’s consent.

Warrantless entry into a residence can also be permitted under the doctrine of hot pursuit. This doctrine applies if police have authority to arrest an individual in public, and literally chase said individual from public into a residence.

Reversing the People v. Ray Decision

Recently, the California Supreme Court disagreed with the holding of People v. Ray in the case of People v. Ovieda. In Ovieda, the Court found that the Community Caretaking Function was not supported by constitutional standards, which require police to obtain a warrant before they can enter a person’s home. The Justices ruled that if there were no exigent circumstances, then police likely had time to call a judge or magistrate and obtain a warrant. In Ovieda, it was suggested that inRay, the police should have gotten a warrant, and it was unnecessary and unconstitutional for the court in Ray to carve out a new warrant exception.

The 4th Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures from the government. The California Supreme Court in People v Ovieda got it right and reversed People v Ray, stating that the police have a heavy burden when demonstrating that a warrantless entry into a residence was justified, and that police officers’ Community Caretaking Function does not justify a warrantless entry into a home.

Community Caretaking Function Has Not Held Up on Appeals

Since People v Ray, no California Appellate Court has never applied the Community Caretaking Function as an exception to the 4th Amendment. That is, in all other Appellate Cases, a warrant or some other warrant exception besides the Community Caretaking function applied, or the entry was deemed to be an unreasonable and illegal search and seizure. In at least two Appellate cases where the prosecution argued the Community Caretaking Function justified warrantless search, the Appellate court rejected that argument.

One of these two cases involved the police’s search of a vehicle where the driver refused consent to search, but a passenger in the car appeared to be ill. Police searched the vehicle and found drugs; the court suppressed the drugs as fruit of an illegal search. In the other case, police believed that a marijuana rip-off had occurred at a residence and they searched the home without first obtaining a warrant. The police attempted to justify the search under the Community Caretaking Function, but the court rejected the argument and suppressed the fruits of that search.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with the Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse

If you were arrested, with or without a warrant, please contact Attorneys Ivan Morse and Ryan Smith to discuss your case. We will comb through the facts of your case and will challenge evidence that was illegally obtained. We have over 30 years of combined legal experience in the criminal justice system and are ready to provide the aggressive defense you need.

For your free consultation, call us at (888) 865-0741 or contact us online.