This week the North Carolina Court of Appeals is considering a case involving the application of the 4th Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, during emergency situations. A Durham man caught growing pot in his home maintains his innocence, considering that the cops never should have been there in the first place.
One early morning in the fall of 2012, a man with slow, slurred speech called 911 and told the dispatcher that he swallowed pills in a suicide attempt. The caller gave an address on Valley Run Drive in Durham. The dispatcher, however, mistakenly sent the police to the wrong address on Valley Run Drive.
The police knocked on the door and, through a window, motioned Kyle Wood, one of the residents, to the front door. Wood denied making the 911 call and was not slurring his words. After he acknowledged having a roommate, the police asked to enter the home, but Wood did not give them permission. Worried about a potential suicide about to occur, the police entered the home against Wood's will. Inside, they ran into Wood's roommate, who also denied making the 911 call and was not slurring his words.
Inside the living room, the police called the dispatcher to confirm the accurate address. During the call, one of the officers turned on a light and saw a bag of weed on the floor. After seeing more pot in other rooms, they got a search warrant for the entire home. After obtaining it, they searched the house and found several sandwich bags of marijuana, two growing systems including one with live plants, a safe with vacuum-sealed packages containing $1,000 each, several marijuana plants hanging from a string to dry, trays of drying pot in the kitchen and a digital scale. In addition the freezer contained marijuana leaves.
Wood was charged for various drug crimes. During a hearing last August his lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence, considering the cops never should have been at his house in the first place. Judge Paul Ridgeway denied the motion. Wood pleaded guilty to drug manufacturing, possession and sales charges, but he appealed Ridgeway's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence. He was placed on supervised probation for two years.
On appeal, Wood's lawyers argue that the police had no right to enter his home without his consent, even when considering the threat of suicide.
"In Mr Wood's case, it only took about thirty seconds for the police to contact the dispatcher to determine that they were at the wrong address," wrote Wood's lawyer in his appeal brief. "There was no reason they could not have remained outside the door, asked Mr Wood to check on his roommate, and spent those thirty seconds making sure they were at the right house."
Police attorneys counter that the cops—including a trained crisis intervention officer—had a reasonable basis to enter the home, and that sometimes when suicidal people call for help, they will deny their suicidal intentions once help arrives.