Can a Warrantless Entry Be Made by the Police to Save Lives ?
In Hornblower v. State, 351 So. 2d 716 (Fla. 1977): the Court held that "the 'emergency exception' permits police to enter and investigate private premises to preserve life . . . or render first aid, provided they do not enter with an accompanying intent either to arrest or search." Id. at 718.
As other courts have explained, and we have reiterated, this authority "is inherent in the very nature of their duties as peace officers and derives from the common law." Zeigler, 402 So. 2d at 371; see also United States v. Barone, 330 F.2d 543, 545 (2d Cir. 1964) (containing the same assertion). It is built into the Fourth Amendment's concept of reasonableness.
Unlike the United States Supreme Court, we have addressed this issue several times and have upheld warrantless entries motivated by feared medical emergencies.
Three cases stand out. In the first, we upheld a warrantless entry where the police tried to identify a chemical that had apparently poisoned seven children then in critical condition. Richardson v. State, 247 So. 2d 296, 297-98 (Fla. 1971).
The Court emphasized that the "searches of the premises were made for the purpose of aiding doctors to save the children's lives and before defendant became a suspect." Id. at 298.
In the second case, we upheld a warrantless entry to prevent a feared suicide attempt. Turner v. State, 645 So. 2d 444 (Fla. 1994).
The defendant opened the door of his motel room to police and, leaving it ajar, walked back to his bed.
He then pulled a gun and pointed it at his head.
Confirming that "officers can make warrantless entries if they reasonably believe a person inside has immediate need," we held that "this was such an emergency, so the officers did not err in entering Turner's motel room.
And, once legally inside the room, police could seize evidence in plain view." Id. at 447.
In the third case, the Court held that defense counsel in a death-penalty trial was not deficient in failing to move to suppress evidence based on a warrantless entry into the defendant's home. See Zakrzewski v. State, 866 So. 2d 688, 693-95 (Fla. 2003).
The police had received reports that the defendant failed to attend an Air Force class, that his home had a broken window, and that his mail was accumulating.
An officer entered the defendant's home through the broken window because he "feared for the welfare of whomever may have been in the house at that time." Id. at 695 (quoting officer's testimony).
The Court agreed that a motion to suppress would have been futile because the officer "did not enter the defendant's home with the intent to seize evidence or make an arrest." Id.