Course: Introduction / Procedural Law
Exigent circumstances is an exception to certain procedural protections based on the idea that public safety comes ahead of individual liberties.
Exigent circumstances is a legal doctrine that allows law enforcement officers to bypass certain procedural protections in emergency situations. This exception is based on the idea that public safety must come ahead of individual liberties in certain situations.
The use of exigent circumstances as an exception to procedural protections has been established through various landmark cases. One such case is Kentucky v. King, where the Supreme Court held that the police may lawfully enter a residence without a warrant if they have an objectively reasonable belief that evidence is being destroyed and that waiting for a warrant would pose a danger to public safety. In this case, the police were investigating a suspected drug sale when they smelled marijuana coming from an apartment. The officers knocked on the door, heard shuffling sounds, and announced their presence. When they received no response, they entered the apartment and found drugs and drug paraphernalia. The Court held that the police had acted lawfully because they had a reasonable belief that evidence was being destroyed inside the apartment and that waiting for a warrant would have posed a danger to public safety.
Another landmark case that has addressed the use of exigent circumstances is Brigham City v. Stuart. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the police may lawfully enter a residence without a warrant in response to a potential danger to public safety. The case involved a loud party at a residence, and the police were called to investigate a potential disturbance. When they arrived, they saw through a window that a fight was occurring inside the home. The officers entered the home without a warrant and arrested several individuals for disorderly conduct. The Court held that the police had acted lawfully because they had an objectively reasonable basis to believe that the loud party was creating a potential danger to public safety.
However, the use of exigent circumstances as an exception to procedural protections is not without controversy. Critics argue that the concept of exigent circumstances can be too broadly interpreted, leading to situations in which individual liberties are unnecessarily infringed upon. They also argue that the use of exigent circumstances can be subject to abuse by law enforcement officers, who may use the concept as a pretext to conduct searches or seizures that would otherwise be prohibited.
To address these concerns, courts have established strict criteria for determining when exigent circumstances apply. For example, in Mincey v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that the use of exigent circumstances must be based on an actual emergency and that officers must be able to demonstrate that the intrusion on individual liberties was no greater than necessary to address the emergency. In this case, the police were investigating a homicide and conducted a warrantless search of a home in which a suspect had been shot and killed. The Court held that the use of exigent circumstances was justified because the police had a legitimate need to investigate the homicide and to protect public safety.
Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452 (2011).
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006).
Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978).
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Last Modified: 04/13/2023