Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ball v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

May 24, 2018

Michael C. Ball, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued February 1, 2018

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-18913-13) (Hon. Patricia A. Broderick, Trial Judge)

          Sicilia C Englert for appellant.

          Chimnomnso N. Kalu, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne Grealy Curt, Jennifer Fischer, and Anwar Graves, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Glickman and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Okun, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. [*]

          OPINION

          Okun, Associate Judge

         In this case, the police went to an apartment building at approximately 5 a.m. after receiving a radio run for an assault in progress. When the police arrived at the apartment building, they were met by a resident who told the police that he had called 911 because he heard yelling and screaming coming from an apartment on the second floor. The police went to the second floor of the apartment building and heard yelling and screaming coming from an apartment on that floor, which sounded like a distressed female yelling as if she were in pain or struggling. The police knocked on the door and approximately one to three minutes later, a woman who looked panicked and concerned answered the door. The woman opened the door halfway, but did not respond to the police officer's questions about what was happening inside the apartment. The woman then looked back inside the apartment and opened the door, after which the police entered the apartment.

         The trial judge found that exigent circumstances justified the police officers' entry into the apartment without a warrant, and denied appellant's motion to suppress the evidence they seized after entering the apartment. Although the issue is a close one, we agree that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry into the apartment and the subsequent seizure of evidence. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth more fully below, we affirm.

         I.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling, [1] the government's evidence at the suppression hearing showed the following. On October 26, 2013, at approximately 5 a.m., the police received a radio run for an assault in progress at 1626 28th Street, SE, Apartment 3. Officers Jeremy Kniseley and Domonick Davis responded to that location, where they were met at the front door of the building by a resident who told the police that he had called 911 because he heard yelling and screaming coming from Apartment 3 on the second floor of the building.[2] The police went to Apartment 3 and knocked on the door, but as they were knocking on the door of Apartment 3, they heard yelling and screaming coming from Apartment 4. More specifically, Officer Kniseley testified that he heard a "distressed female" "yelling as if she was in pain or struggling" and Officer Davis testified that he heard a lot of "commotion and going on" inside the apartment. In addition, the 911 caller, who had followed the police halfway up the steps to the second floor landing, pointed to Apartment 4 as the officers heard yelling and screaming coming from that apartment.

         Officer Kniseley then knocked several times on the front door of Apartment 4, identified himself as a police officer, and requested that the occupants open the door. After a period of one to three minutes had elapsed, a woman opened the front door halfway. According to Officer Kniseley, this woman was partially dressed and appeared "somewhat panicked and concerned, " while Officer Davis testified that the woman was wearing a shirt and looked "more like in a daze." The officers asked the woman what was happening inside the apartment, but the woman did not respond and instead looked back into the apartment and then fully opened the door.

         After the woman fully opened the door, the officers observed another woman inside the apartment, who appeared to be in the process of getting dressed. Officer Kniseley testified that he thought "some sort of sexual assault" had been occurring inside the apartment, based on the "yelling and screaming, and what [he] thought was distress, " and based on his observations of the two partially dressed women inside the apartment.

         After observing these two women and not receiving any responses to their questions, the officers entered the apartment and observed appellant, with his body partially obscured behind a wall.[3] The police requested that appellant show his hands, but appellant refused to do so, and instead kept looking back towards the couch in the living room and then began reaching towards the couch. After the officers observed appellant reach towards the couch, Officer Davis wrestled appellant to the ground and both officers were able to handcuff him after a struggle that lasted one to two minutes. During the struggle, appellant repeatedly yelled "This is my house. I live here. This is my house." The couch in the living room moved from the wall as the result of this struggle, and when the officers stood up after handcuffing appellant, they observed a black handgun lying behind the couch. Officer Kniseley then recovered the gun, which the officer believed was loaded because it was "weighted" and "heavy."

         After recovering the handgun, the police conducted a search of the remainder of the apartment to ensure their safety and the safety of the occupants. During this search, the police recovered one bag of marijuana from the top of a refrigerator, one bag of marijuana from a television stand in the living room, and a grinder with traces of marijuana on top of the couch. Appellant subsequently was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-4503 (a)(1) (2012 Repl.), possession of an unregistered firearm, in violation of D.C. Code § 7-2502.01 (a) (2012 Repl.), unlawful possession of ammunition, in violation of D.C. Code § 7-2506.01 (a), unlawful possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01 (d) (2012 Repl.), and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia, in violation of D.C. Code § 48-1103 (a).

         Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from his apartment, arguing that the evidence should be suppressed because the police entered his apartment without a warrant and without his consent. The government filed an opposition in which it argued that the police did not need a warrant to enter appellant's apartment because: (1) they were responding to an emergency situation in which they reasonably believed that the occupants in the apartment needed their assistance; and (2) the woman who answered the door had consented to the search. The trial court conducted a hearing on appellant's motion to suppress the evidence seized from his apartment, at which both Officers Kniseley and Davis testified. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied appellant's motion, stating that she credited the testimony of the officers and finding that exigent circumstances justified the officers' warrantless entry into appellant's apartment and subsequent seizure of evidence.[4]

         At appellant's first trial, the jury acquitted appellant of unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and could not reach a unanimous verdict as to the other charges. The government subsequently dismissed the unlawful possession of marijuana charge prior to appellant's second trial. At the second trial, the jury convicted appellant of all three gun charges, and this appeal followed.

         II.

         Appellant argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because there were no exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search, and because appellant did not consent to a search of the apartment. We need not address appellant's consent argument, because we find that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search. See, e.g., Oliver v. United States, 656 A.2d 1159, 1164 n.11 (D.C. 1995) (not addressing consent argument after finding that search was justified under exigent circumstances doctrine).[5]

         The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "permits an officer to enter a dwelling without a warrant if the officer has 'an objectively reasonable basis for believing' that entry is necessary 'to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.'" Evans v. United States, 122 A.3d 876, 881 (D.C. 2015) (quoting Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 406 (2006)). This exception to the warrant requirement, known as the "emergency aid exception, " does not depend on "the seriousness of any crime [the officers] are investigating when the emergency arises, " and instead "requires only 'an objectively reasonable basis for believing' that 'a person within [the dwelling] is in need of immediate aid.'" Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 48 (2009) (quoting Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 404-05; Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978) (internal citations omitted)); see also Fisher, 558 U.S. at 49 (the police do not need "ironclad proof of a likely serious, life-threatening injury" to invoke the emergency aid exception).[6] Furthermore, police officers do not have to observe evidence of injuries before entering a premises pursuant to the emergency aid exception, because "[t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties." Id. Finally, in evaluating the reasonableness of the police officers' actions, "the circumstances before [the officers] are not to be dissected and viewed singly; rather they must be considered as a whole. The totality of the circumstances -- the whole picture --must be taken into account." Oliver, 656 A.2d at 1166 (quotations omitted).

         For the following reasons, the officers in this case had an objectively reasonable basis for believing that they needed to enter appellant's apartment in order to provide emergency assistance to the occupants of that apartment. First, the officers received a call for an assault "in progress" at appellant's apartment building, so there was reason for the officers to believe that they were responding to a situation involving ongoing physical violence. Second, the information in the call was corroborated when the officers arrived at the apartment building and were met by the person who called 911 and told them he had called 911 because he heard yelling and screaming coming from an apartment on the second floor, and the 911 caller's reliability was enhanced by the fact that he did not remain anonymous but met the police at the apartment building. See, e.g., United States v. Jenkins, 329 F.3d 579, 581 (7th Cir. 2003) (911 call for assault in progress, when made by caller who identifies himself, can justify warrantless search under exigent circumstances exception); cf. Joseph v. United States, 926 A.2d 1156, 1161-62 (D.C. 2007) (upholding investigative stop and frisk based on 911 call from identified citizen, noting that "information from an identified citizen is presumptively reliable"). Third, this information was further corroborated when the officers went to the second floor and heard yelling coming from appellant's apartment, including the sounds of a woman who sounded as if she were yelling in pain. Fourth, when the officers knocked on the door of appellant's apartment, no one answered the door for a period of one to three minutes, and when a woman finally did answer the door, she appeared to be panicked and concerned. Fifth, the woman who answered the door did not respond to the police officer's questions about what was happening inside the apartment, and instead opened the door before the officers entered the apartment. Under these circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for the police to believe that their assistance was needed to prevent injury, or further injury, to the occupants of appellant's apartment.

         The cases cited by appellant do not dictate a different result. Indeed, these cases involved situations where the police did not have an objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an ongoing emergency in the premises they entered without a warrant. For example, in Evans, supra, the police entered an apartment without a warrant even though they had no objectively reasonable basis to believe that anyone in the apartment needed emergency aid, because the two participants in an alleged domestic violence incident both were being interviewed in a parking lot outside the apartment building at the time of entry, and because each person described a physical altercation that only involved the two of them. 122 A.3d at 881-82.

         Likewise, in Washington v. United States, 585 A.2d 167 (D.C. 1991), the police received a radio call for a woman with a gun, went to an apartment where the woman who answered the front door of the apartment told the police that her sister had a gun and she wanted it out of the house, and the officers then proceeded down a hallway to a room that was identified as the appellant's room. Id. at 168. The officers knocked on the door and asked the occupant to come outside and, after receiving no reply and waiting a few seconds, the officers forced the door open, breaking it off its hinges, and observed the appellant sitting peacefully on a bed with her three-year-old son. Id. at 168, 170. The police asked the appellant if she had a gun, and when she denied having one, the police removed the appellant's son from the room and searched the room, eventually finding a gun in a closed shopping bag on a shelf of the clothes closet. Id. at 168. This court, in a 2-1 opinion, reversed the trial court's denial of the appellant's suppression motion, finding that there were no exigent circumstances that justified a warrantless search of the room because the appellant was sitting "peacefully on a bed. Her hands were in plain view; [and] she was under the continuing scrutiny of a police officer." Id. at 170. Under these circumstances, where the officers had "taken effective control of the situation, and neither they nor any other persons here [were] threatened by the possibility that [appellant] would retrieve the gun and either use it or dispose of it, " the court found that the police lacked exigent circumstances justifying their warrantless search of the appellant's room. Id.

         This case stands in stark contrast to the situations the police confronted in Evans and Washington. Unlike Evans, this case did not involve a situation where the participants in an alleged domestic violence dispute were already outside the apartment and being interviewed by the police. Rather, in this case the police heard yelling and screaming coming from the apartment they subsequently entered, including the sounds of a woman yelling as if she were in pain. And unlike Washington, the police in this case were not confronted with a situation where a woman was sitting peacefully on her bed with her three-year-old child when they entered the room and conducted a warrantless search. To the contrary, the woman who answered the door in this case looked panicked and concerned, did not answer the door until one to three minutes after the officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, and did not answer the officer's questions about what was happening inside the apartment. Thus, Evans and Washington present very different circumstances from this case and do not demonstrate that the police acted in an objectively unreasonable manner when they entered appellant's apartment without a warrant.

         Appellant also argues that this court and the Supreme Court have upheld warrantless searches under the emergency aid exception only when there were stronger grounds to believe that emergency aid was needed. This argument has some force. Indeed, in Booth, supra, this court upheld a warrantless entry into the front hall of a rooming house where the person who answered the door had dried blood on his face and the person did not respond to the officer's questions about where the blood came from, 455 A.2d at 1356, and in Earle v. United States, 612 A.2d 1258, 1263-64 (D.C. 1992), we upheld a warrantless entry into a house where the police received a call for shots fired in or at the rear of the house, the officer waited for "quite some time" for someone to answer the door, and when someone finally answered the door, he behaved nervously, looked repeatedly back behind the door, refused to show his hands, and then tried to shut the door on the officer. Likewise, in Brigham City, supra, the Supreme Court upheld a warrantless entry where the police observed a fight occurring inside a house in which one of the occupants hit another in the face, sending the injured person to the sink, spitting blood. 547 U.S. at 406. Finally, in F ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.