437 U.S. 385 (1978), 77-5353, Mincey v. Arizona

Docket Nº:No. 77-5353
Citation:437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290
Party Name:Mincey v. Arizona
Case Date:June 21, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 385

437 U.S. 385 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290




No. 77-5353

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 1978

Argued February 21, 1978



During a narcotics raid on petitioner's apartment by an undercover police officer and several plainclothes policemen, the undercover officer was shot and killed, and petitioner was wounded, as were two other persons in the apartment. Other than looking for victims of the shooting and arranging for medical assistance, the narcotics agents, pursuant to a police department directive that police officers should not investigate incidents in which they are involved, made no further investigation. Shortly thereafter, however, homicide detectives arrived on the scene to take charge of the investigation, and they proceeded to conduct an exhaustive four-day warrantless search of the apartment, which included the opening of dresser drawers, the ripping up of carpets, and the seizure of 200 to 300 objects. In the evening of the same day as the raid, one of the detectives went to the hospital where petitioner was confined in the intensive care unit, and, after giving him Miranda warnings, persisted in interrogating him while he was lying in bed barely conscious, encumbered by tubes, needles, and a breathing apparatus, and despite the fact that he repeatedly asked that the interrogation stop until he could get a lawyer. Subsequently, petitioner was indicted for, and convicted of, murder, assault, and narcotics offenses. At his trial in an Arizona court, during which much of the evidence introduced against him was the product of the four-day search, and on appeal, petitioner contended that the evidence used against him had been unlawfully seized from his apartment without a warrant, and that statements obtained from him at the hospital, used to impeach his credibility, were inadmissible because they had not been made voluntarily. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the murder and assault convictions on state law grounds, but affirmed the narcotics convictions, holding that the [98 S.Ct. 2410] warrantless search of a homicide scene is permissible under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and that petitioner's statements in the hospital were voluntary.


1. The "murder scene exception" created by the Arizona Supreme Court to the warrant requirement is inconsistent with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the warrantless search of petitioner's apartment was not constitutionally permissible simply because a homicide had occurred there. Pp. 388-395.

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(a) The search cannot be justified on the ground that no constitutionally protected right of privacy was invaded, it being one thing to say that one who is legally taken into police custody has a lessened right of privacy in his person, and quite another to argue that he also has a lessened right of privacy in his entire house. Pp. 391-392.

(b) Nor can the search be justified on the ground that a possible homicide inevitably presents an emergency situation, especially since there was no emergency threatening life or limb, all persons in the apartment having been located before the search began. Pp. 392-393.

(c) The seriousness of the offense under investigation did not itself create exigent circumstances of the kind that under the Fourth Amendment justify a warrantless search, where there is no indication that evidence would be lost, destroyed, or removed during the time required to obtain a search warrant and there is no suggestion that a warrant could not easily and conveniently have been obtained. Pp. 393-394.

(d) The Arizona Supreme Court's guidelines for the "murder scene exception" did not afford sufficient protection to a person in whose home a homicide or assault occurs where they conferred unbridled discretion upon the individual officer to interpret such terms as "reasonable . . . search," "serious personal injury with likelihood of death where there is reason to suspect foul play," and "reasonable period," it being this kind of judgmental assessment of the reasonableness and scope of a proposed search that the Fourth Amendment requires be made by a neutral and objective magistrate, not a police officer. Pp. 394-395.

2. Due process requires that the statements obtained from petitioner in the hospital not be used in any way against him at his trial where it is apparent from the record that they were not "the product of his free and rational choice," Greenwald v. Wisconsin, 390 U.S. 519, 521, but, to the contrary, that he wanted not to answer his interrogator, and that, while he was weakened by pain and shock, isolated from family, friends, and legal counsel, and barely conscious, his will was simply overborne. While statements made by a defendant in circumstances violating the strictures of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, are admissible for impeachment if their "trustworthiness . . . satisfies legal standards," Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222, 224; Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714, 722, any criminal trial use against a defendant of his involuntary statement is a denial of due process of law. Pp. 396-402.

115 Ariz. 472, 566 P.2d 273, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Part I of which REHNQUIST, J., joined. MARSHALL, J.,

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filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 402. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 405.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the afternoon of October 28, 1974, undercover police officer Barry Headricks of the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad knocked on the door of an apartment in Tucson, Ariz., occupied by the petitioner, Rufus Mincey. Earlier in the day, Officer Headricks had allegedly arranged to purchase a quantity of heroin from Mincey and had left, ostensibly to obtain money. On his return, he was accompanied by [98 S.Ct. 2411] nine other plainclothes policemen and a deputy county attorney. The door was opened by John Hodgman, one of three acquaintances of Mincey who were in the living room of the apartment. Officer Headricks slipped inside and moved quickly into the bedroom. Hodgman attempted to slam the door in order to keep the other officers from entering, but was pushed back against the wall. As the police entered the apartment, a rapid volley of shots was heard from the bedroom. Officer Headricks emerged and collapsed on the floor. When other officers entered the bedroom, they found Mincey lying on the floor, wounded and semiconscious. Officer Headricks died a few hours later in the hospital.

The petitioner was indicted for murder, assault,1 and three

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counts of narcotics offenses. He was tried at a single trial, and convicted on all the charges. At his trial and on appeal, he contended that evidence used against him had been unlawfully seized from his apartment without a warrant, and that statements used to impeach his credibility were inadmissible because they had not been made voluntarily. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the murder and assault convictions on state law grounds,2 but affirmed the narcotics convictions. 115 Ariz. 472, 566 P.2d 273. It held that the warrantless search of a homicide scene is permissible under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that Mincey's statements were voluntary. We granted certiorari to consider these substantial constitutional questions. 434 U.S. 902.


The first question presented is whether the search of Mincey's apartment was constitutionally permissible. After the shooting, the narcotics agents, thinking that other persons in the apartment might have been injured, looked about quickly for other victims. They found a young woman wounded in the bedroom closet, and Mincey, apparently unconscious in the bedroom, as well as Mincey's three acquaintances (one of whom had been wounded in the head) in the living room. Emergency assistance was requested, and some medical aid was administered to Officer Headricks. But the agents refrained from further investigation, pursuant to a Tucson Police Department directive that police officers should not investigate incidents in which they are involved. They neither searched further nor seized any evidence; they merely guarded the suspects and the premises.

Within 10 minutes, however, homicide detectives who had

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heard a radio report of the shooting arrived and took charge of the investigation. They supervised the removal of Officer Headricks and the suspects, trying to make sure that the scene was disturbed as little as possible, and then proceeded to gather evidence. Their search lasted four days,3 during which period the entire apartment was searched, photographed, and diagrammed. The officers opened drawers, closets, and cupboards, and inspected their contents; they emptied clothing pockets; they dug bullet fragments out of the walls and floors; they pulled up sections of the carpet and removed them for examination. Every item in the apartment was closely examined and inventoried, and 200 to 300 objects were seized. In short, Mincey's apartment was subjected to an exhaustive and intrusive search. No warrant was ever obtained.

The petitioner's pretrial motion to suppress the fruits of this search was denied [98 S.Ct. 2412] after a hearing. Much of the evidence introduced against him at trial (including photographs and diagrams, bullets and shell casings, guns, narcotics, and narcotics paraphernalia) was the product of the four-day search of his apartment. On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court reaffirmed previous decisions in which it had held that the warrantless search of the scene of a homicide is constitutionally permissible.4 It stated its ruling as follows:

We hold a reasonable,...

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