Warrantless Entry Into Home in State College DUI

Cops Need a Warrant to Enter a Home

Client, a Penn State student, attempted to enter a downtown State College bar.  The bouncer felt that Client was too drunk and denied entry.  Minutes later, the bouncer observed Client driving a vehicle, and the bouncer observed Client operate his vehicle in an unsafe manner through an intersection.  The bouncer called 911.  Shortly thereafter, a driver that was following Client also called 911 to report erratic driving and suspected drunk driver.  The driver followed Client for approximately 2.5 miles before Client parked at his residence.  The driver watched Client park, exit his vehicle, enter a code to open the garage door, and then watched Client enter his residence.

The police responded to the 911 calls arrived at Client’s residence approximately 5 minutes later.  The police knocked on various doors at the residence, but no one answered.  The officers at the scene contacted a supervisor at the station and waited for him to arrive at the scene.  Approximately thirty minutes after the police initially arrived, the State College police officers made a warrantless entry into Client’s residence.  The police found Client sleeping in a second floor bedroom.  Client was arrested, taken outside, and then transported to the Mount Nittany Medical Center for a blood alcohol test.  The blood test results showed Client’s blood alcohol level was above a .16%, so the police filed DUI charges of violating 75 Pa.C.S. 3802(c).  Because this was a second offense, Client faced a mandatory minimum DUI sentence of 90 days in jail, $1,500.00 fine, and 18 months license suspension.

Client hired Penn State DUI lawyer Jason Dunkle.  A pretrial motion to suppress was filed that sought suppression of all evidence that the police found during their warrantless search and arrest in Client’s home.  Under both the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, the police are normally required to obtain a warrant in order to enter a person’s home to arrest them.  The Centre County District Attorney argued that the police did not need a warrant because they acted under a “medical emergency” exception, meaning the police had to immediately enter and could not takethe time to obtain a warrant in order to provide emergency medical care.  The prosecutor also argued that the police could make a warrantless arrest inside Client’s home for a DUI.  The Centre County judge accepted the prosecutor’s arguments and denied suppression.  Client was then convicted of DUI.  The matter was appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The Superior Court did not agree with the Centre County judge and instead ruled in favor of the defense, finding that the warrantless entry violated Client’s constitutional rights.  The Superior Court rejected the argument that a warrant was not required because of a “medical emergency” exception here.  The evidence clearly showed that Client was intoxicated, but he was not intoxicated to the extent that he needed immediate medical assistance.  The Court noted that while Client was intoxicated, he had been able to drive his car for approximately 2.5 miles, put in the garage door code, and enter his residence without any issues.  There was no apparent need for immediate medical assistance.  The prosecutor’s argument was also undercut by the fact that the police did not immediatley enter the residence but instead waited for approximately 30 minutes.

The Court also stated that even if the police could have entered for a medical emergency, they were required to leave the residence after determining that medical assistance was not needed.  The police were not permitted to use the medical exception as an excuse to enter and then make a warrantless arrest.  The Court also rejected the argument that the DUI was a severe enough offense to allow for a warrantless arrest inside a person’s own home.  The Court stressed that the 4th Amendment requires the police to obtain a warrant before trying to arrest a suspect in the suspect’s home, and the Court rejected the prosecution’s request to create an exception to that rule for DUI cases.

The Superior Court reversed Client’s conviction and returned the case to Centre County with an order that all evidence found from the warrantless entry and arrest must be suppressed.  The Centre County District Attorney then filed paperwork to have the case dismissed.  Client is currently going through the expungement process to have the case information removed from the Centre County system.