An Ohio Court of Appeals recently decided another case involving an unreasonable search by police.  Here, upon responding to a noise complaint, a police officer stuck his foot in the door to prevent the resident from closing it – without a warrant and without any applicable exception to the warrant requirement.

Because the search violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, any evidence collected or actions taken after the officer stuck his foot in the door were inadmissible.

Noise Complaint Leads to Arrest for Disorderly Conduct and Obstruction of Official Business

Around 1:00 a.m., police officers responded to a complaint of loud music coming from a second-floor apartment.  The officers responded and knocked loudly on the door. When the defendant answered, the officer told him about the noise complaint.  The defendant responded that the music was coming from a television, and that he would turn it down. He closed the door, but the noise did not stop.

After waiting three minutes, the officer knocked on the door again. When the defendant answered, the officer told him that he was going to issue him a citation for violating the city’s noise ordinance and requested his identification.

The defendant did not comply with the officer’s request for I.D.  Instead, he said again that he would turn the music down and attempted to close the door.  The officer stopped him by putting his foot in the doorway, and he demanded identification again.

A struggle over the door ensued with the officers eventually subduing the defendant and arresting him.  He was charged with having weapons under disability, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and obstructing official business.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home without a warrant or exigent circumstances.

Was the officer permitted to stick his foot in the door?

The United States Supreme Court has explained that “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 U.S. 297, 313 (1972).

Exceptions to the warrant requirement include:

(1) Emergency situations (when someone in the home is in need of “immediate aid” or there exists a situation “threatening life or limb.’”)

(2) Search incident to a lawful arrest (searching someone in the course of arresting them on another crime)

(3) Hot pursuit of a suspect who retreats into the confines of his home.

(4) Evidence that might easily be removed or destroyed if entry is delayed to obtain a warrant.

(5) Consent

In determining whether an exception exists, the Supreme Court has cautioned that the exigent circumstances exception into a home should “rarely be sanctioned when there is probable cause to believe that only a minor offense * * * has been committed.”

Here, the underlying offense was a noise ordinance – a fourth degree misdemeanor.  Further, none of the above exceptions apply.

The “hot pursuit” exception applies where a suspect’s arrest began in a public place and he ran into his own home to escape.  Although the doorway could be a public place, there was no testimony that the defendant stood in the doorway (leaving his house) when he answered the door to the officers.

Further, even if the defendant obstructed official business by refusing to provide his identity when the officer  attempted to cite him for violating the noise ordinance, there was still no compelling need to enter the apartment without a warrant.

Accordingly, the appeals court found that the trial court correctly suppressed any evidence that it collected after the officer “placed his foot in the doorway[.]”

State v. Gorden, 2015-Ohio-2133.

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