State v. Douglas – Case Brief Summary (Wisconsin)

In State v. Douglas (1985) 123 Wis. 2d 13 365 N.W.2d 580, the defendant called 9-1-1 to report that he had shot three of his family members. The defendant requested that the police enter the basement of the home, where the defendant was located.

The police entered the basement, found the bodies and took the defendant into custody. Over the course of the next two days, crime lab technicians conducted an investigation of the premises, which ended on November 8, at approximately 8:00 p.m. Twenty-two hours later, on November 9, two officers returned to the defendant's home and found an incriminatory letter in the defendant's bedroom. The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted review to "determine whether the November 9th reentry of the defendant's home by police violated his constitutional rights." (Id. at p. 582.)

The court began its analysis by explaining that "'physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed. ...' " (Douglas, supra, 365 N.W.2d at p. 582.)

The court concluded that although the initial entry was "with ... consent," the police could not "justifiably rely upon that consent to reenter the defendant's home ... approximately forty-five hours later" (ibid.): "The defendant's consent ... justified the search made at that time. But such authorization is not perpetual. The courts, including this one, have scrutinized with the greatest care claims by the state to the use of evidence seized in warrantless searches of one's home" (id. at p. 584).

In a footnote, the court distinguished decisions from other jurisdictions that "did not involve a search of the defendant's home," including one case that permitted the repeated "search of an automobile." (Id. at fn. 7.)