Entering a Residence

At the time of this writing, a few days have passed since the Sentinel (OK) police chief and several deputies from the Sheriff’s Office went to a residence in response to a bomb threat at a local day care.  It was believed that the threat originated from the residence in question.  The chief and the deputies made entry into and began clearing the house.  A resident of the house opened fire striking the chief four times.  The chief survived due to the fact that he was wearing a ballistic vest.  It should be noted that the entry was made in the very early morning hours.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has announced that charges are not being brought against the resident who fired the shots.

I have read several articles concerning this incident, and there is one glaring omission in each of them, and that is that no mention is made as to whether or not the peace officers involved had a valid search warrant to enter the residence.

There are four legal means in which to enter a residence.  As outlined in the 2-3-4 Rule, they are: consent, a search warrant, hot pursuit, and exigent circumstances.  It is pretty obvious that they didn’t have consent.  They also didn’t chase anyone into the house; so, there goes the hot pursuit exception.  That leaves only exigent circumstances or a search warrant as legal means of entry.

A simple explanation of exigent circumstance would be a situation in which immediate entry was required in a situation in which there was a immediate risk to life, such as an officer hearing calls for help or officers arriving to a call of domestic violence and hearing what appears to be a violent physical encounter taking place.  In such instances, the circumstances would make it extremely unreasonable for the officers involved to obtain a warrant prior to entry.  For instance, it would be completely unreasonable for peace officers to not enter the scene to stop a stabbing in progress.  Another example would be to prevent evidence destruction.  Readers are encouraged to seek out more information on exigent circumstances beyond this brief attempt at an explanation.

As to the incident at hand, I suppose one could make an argument for exigency; however, I would need much more information than is provided in the various articles.  Does a reported bomb threat for a daycare that was not currently open an occupied constitute exigency?  Was there some information that led the officers on scene to believe that they must enter immediately to save lives or prevent the destruction of evidence?

Again, the information provided in the articles is lacking, and second guessing officers on the scene when not having all of the information they had is not a practice in which I readily engage.  After all, they may have had a warrant with such just not being mentioned in the articles.  I simply saw this as an opportunity to discuss the legal requirements for entering a residence, and this article is by no means intended to imply wrong doing on the part of those involved.

3 comments

  1. A Previous article I read on this incident said they did not have a warrant but “believed” the 911 call regarding the supposed bomb came from the residence they entered. I have no validity for the article however.

    1. Jack,

      Thanks for the info. If that is indeed what happened, then they would have to make a case for exigency.

      I wonder if that is playing into the decision to not seek charges against the resident.

      For the record, I am not disputing the decision to not bring charges. This is all purely an academic discussion.

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