Last week the Illinois Court of Appeals held that in order to enter a residence without a warrant, the police need consent or demonstrate that an exception exists. The case is People v. Swanson, 2016 IllApp (2d) 150340. On the evening of January 7, 2015, Scott Swanson met a friend at a bar in Hinckley, Illinois. Swanson drank about 3 beers at the bar and left in his vehicle to go home. It was icy outside with snow patches. When he was roughly 2 miles from his home his car slid into a ditch, hit a stop sign, the airbags deployed and he cut his finger. His vehicle could not start so he tried to call home but was unsuccessful. It was below zero outside so he locked his vehicle and set out on foot to go home. About a mile from the incident, he came upon the home of the Thompson family and knocked on the door. The occupants answered the door but would not let him in. At some point a resident in the home pulled a gun and Swanson set out on foot to go home. About a half a mile down the road Swanson encountered another home, but nobody answered the door so he set out to get to his house. A DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputy was dispatched to the Thompson home for a report of a disoriented person. On his way to the Thompson home the deputy encountered Swanson’s disabled vehicle. He noticed the damage to the vehicle, the deployed airbag and an open beer can on the passenger side floor. He did not notice any blood in the vehicle. Once it was determined that the vehicle belonged to the Swansons’ another officer went to the Swanson home and spoke to Swanson’s wife. The officer informed Swanson’s wife that her husband had been involved in an accident and could not be found and left his card with her and requested that she call him if he came home. Shortly after the officer left the Swanson home, Scott Swanson arrived at the house. His wife noticed that he was freezing cold, covered in snow, and his finger was bleeding. Swanson’s wife went upstairs and drew a warm bath. When she went upstairs she noticed a glass of vodka and orange juice. Swanson told her that he had poured the glass to warm up. While Swanson’s wife dressed the wound he drank the glass of vodka. After she drew the bath, Swanson’s wife called the officer and let the dispatcher who answered the call know that he was safe, he did not need any medical attention and that she would arrange to have the vehicle removed from the ditch. According to Swanson’s wife, an officer broke in on the phone conversation and told her that the police had to see Swanson to make sure he was ok. She insisted that he was fine and that the police did not have to come to the house and if they did she would not let them in. Shortly after that phone call the police arrived at the Swanson home. There was conflicting testimony at the hearing about exactly what happened. Swanson’s wife insisted that she did not allow the police to enter the home while the police officers testified that she had given some form of consent to enter the home. But at some point the police entered the home and placed Scott Swanson under arrest. He was charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI), Leaving the Scene of a Property Damage Accident, Illegal Transportation of Alcohol, Failure to Reduce Speed to Avoid an Accident and Improper Lane Usage. Swanson filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and a Petition to Rescind Statutory Summary Suspension. After hearing the evidence, the Court granted the Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension by finding that there was no probable cause to believe that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident and granted the Motion to Suppress by finding that Swanson’s wife was credible and that his wife did not invite the police into her home and that there were no exigent circumstances present to justify the police entering the home and suppressed everything that happened after the police entered the home.
On Appeal the State argued that the trial court erred in granting the motion because there was consent to enter the home and the need for emergency medical attention. The State argued that the trial court erred in granting the Petition to Rescind because there was probable cause to believe that Swanson had been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
With regards to the issue of consent, the Court refused to overturn the trial court’s determination that Swanson’s wife was more credible than the officers. The Court held that they will not disturb the trial courts findings of fact absent a finding that it was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Next, the Court held that a warrant-less entry into a home is presumed to be unreasonable. An exception to this is if the state is able to establish consent. But since the trial court believed the wife over the police, the court was unwilling to disturb the trial court’s find of fact and held that there was no consent.
Next the Court looked at whether an exception to the warrant requirement existed. The need to provide emergency medical attention has been recognized to be an exception to the warrant requirement in Illinois. In order for the exception to exist the police officer must have reasonable cause to believe that an emergency is at hand and have some reasonable basis, approaching probable cause, to connect the medical emergency to the area entered. An assessment of the reasonable basis will depend on what the officer knew at the time. In reviewing the evidence, the court found that there was no reasonable basis to assume that this was a need to provide emergency medical treatment to Swanson. Thus, since no recognized exception to the requirement of a warrant to enter a home, the court upheld the granting of the motion to suppress.
Based on the lack of probable cause the DUI arrest and the illegal entry into the Swanson home, the Court also upheld the granting of the Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension.
This case reaffirms the basic fundamental 4th Amendment rules that we were taught in law school. If there’s a search without a warrant, the law presumes that it was unreasonable. Once a defendant establishes that there was no warrant to search, the burden shifts to the state to show consent. If there was no consent then the state has the burden of showing that a recognized exception existed to overcome the requirement of a warrant. So as a practitioner, once you establish that there was no warrant, the burden shifts to the state to prove consent or an exception. So let the state do their work. Make them prove their case!
James Dimeas is an award winning Chicago criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively representing his clients against DUI and weapons charges. If you have a DUI or weapons case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.