528 U.S. 11 (1999), 98-8770, Flippo v. West Virginia

Docket Nº:Case No. 98-8770
Citation:528 U.S. 11, 120 S.Ct. 7, 145 L.Ed.2d 16, 68 U.S.L.W. 3260
Case Date:October 18, 1999
Court:United States Supreme Court

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528 U.S. 11 (1999)

120 S.Ct. 7, 145 L.Ed.2d 16, 68 U.S.L.W. 3260




Case No. 98-8770

United States Supreme Court

October 18, 1999




After petitioner was indicted for murdering his wife, he moved to suppress evidence that the police discovered in a closed briefcase during a warrantless search of the secured crime scene, a cabin where the couple was vacationing. A West Virginia trial court denied his motion on the ground that the police were entitled to search any crime scene and the objects found there. The State Supreme Court of Appeals denied discretionary review.


The trial court's position squarely conflicts with this Court's holding in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, that there is no "murder scene exception" to the Fourth Amendment's Warrant Clause. While the police may make warrantless entries onto premises if they reasonably believe a person needs immediate aid and may make prompt warrantless searches of a homicide scene for possible other victims or a killer, a search is not constitutionally permissible simply because a homicide has recently occurred on the premises. Id., at 395. On remand, if properly raised, matters such as the State's contention that the search was consensual, the applicability of any other exception to the warrant rule, or the harmlessness vel non of any error in receiving this evidence may be resolved.

Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.

Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence seized in a warrantless search of a "homicide crime scene" was denied on the ground that the police were entitled to make a thorough search of any crime scene and the objects found

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there. Because the rule applied directly conflicts with Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), we reverse.

One night in 1996, petitioner and his wife were vacationing at a cabin in a state park. After petitioner called 911 to report that they had been attacked, the police arrived to find petitioner waiting outside the cabin, with injuries to his head and legs. After questioning him, an officer entered the building and found the body of petitioner's wife, with fatal head wounds. The officers closed off the area, took petitioner to the hospital, and searched the exterior and environs of the cabin for footprints or signs of forced entry. When a police photographer arrived at about 5:30 a.m., the officers reentered the building and proceeded to "process the crime scene." Brief in Opposition 5. For over 16 hours, they took photographs, collected evidence, and searched through the contents of the cabin. According to the trial court, "[a]t the crime scene, the investigating officers found on a table in Cabin 13, among other things, a briefcase, which they, in the ordinary course of investigating a homicide, opened, wherein they found and seized various photographs and negatives." Indictment No. 96-F-119 (Cir. Ct. Fayette County, W. Va., May 28, 1997), App. A to Pet. for Cert., p. 2.

Petitioner was indicted for the murder of his wife and moved to suppress the photographs and negatives discovered in an envelope in the closed briefcase during the search.[1] He argued that the police had obtained no warrant, and that no exception to the warrant requirement justified the search and seizure.

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In briefs to the trial court, petitioner contended that Mincey v. Arizona, supra, rejects a "crime scene exception" to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. The State also cited Mincey; it argued that...

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