People v. Beuschlein

Citation245 Mich. App. 744,630 N.W.2d 921
Decision Date10 July 2001
Docket NumberDocket No. 222317.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Damon BEUSCHLEIN, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

Lynn Jeffrey Eastin and Rosemary A. Gordon, Fraser, Grosse Pointe, for the defendant.



Defendant appeals by leave granted an order denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered in a search of his home without a warrant. We affirm. In doing so, we hold that the entry and search without a warrant were reasonable under both the exigent circumstances and emergency aid warrant exceptions.


Defendant is charged with possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(iv), possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, M.C.L. § 750.227b, and domestic assault, M.C.L. § 750.81(2). In the trial court, defendant moved to suppress evidence of cocaine and a firearm2 found in his home by police responding to a 911 call regarding domestic violence at defendant's address.

The only witness to testify at the evidentiary hearing that was held regarding defendant's motion was Officer John Dubois. Officer Dubois testified that he was dispatched in response to an "open 9-1-1 call," in which the caller failed to hang up. According to the dispatch, there was a domestic incident in progress, possibly involving guns and knives. When Officer Dubois arrived with his partner, Officer Noble, he went to the front door of defendant's mobile home and identified himself as a police officer. He knocked on the door, but no one answered. He then attempted to gain entry into the house, but the door was locked. He explained that he could hear "wrestling or moving around, a lot of shuffling around" inside the house. Approximately one or two minutes after Officer Dubois' arrival, a woman he identified as "Ms. Collier" answered the door. Officer Dubois ordered her to lie on the floor, and he and Officer Noble entered the home with their guns drawn. The officers spotted defendant in the back bedroom of the mobile home and ordered him to come out and lie on the hallway floor. Officer Dubois testified that he handcuffed defendant "for our safety and everybody's safety in the home," because at that point he still did not know how many people were in the house. The drugs were discovered "after everything started settling down." Officer Dubois testified that both powder and crack cocaine were discovered "in plain view" on the kitchen floor, front room, hallway, and on a tray in the bedroom.

Significantly, Officer Dubois testified that although there was no immediate indication that Ms. Collier was injured when she answered the door, he entered the home because he believed, on the basis of the 911 open call, that "there was an obvious problem there that—that people's lives could be in jeopardy or in trouble" and that he believed there was "danger ... inside the home." When he entered the residence, he "had no idea if they were injured or not." He also opined that, in the context of a 911 domestic violence call involving weapons, he and his partner were putting themselves at risk. Dubois testified that he did not know there was cocaine in defendant's home before entering and had no reason to believe that evidence was being destroyed or that a suspect would escape.

On the basis of the above evidence, the trial court found there were exigent circumstances justifying police entry into defendant's home. The trial court ruled that Officer Dubois "believed that [the 911 call] justified entry and exigent circumstances existed and I think theythey did in his mind at the time, sufficient to permit the— the entry." The court further found that the evidence was in plain view and therefore lawfully seized. Accordingly, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the evidence. Defendant now appeals from this evidentiary ruling.


We review de novo a trial court's ultimate decision on a motion to suppress. People v. Echavarria, 233 Mich.App. 356, 366, 592 N.W.2d 737 (1999); People v. Marsack, 231 Mich.App. 364, 372, 586 N.W.2d 234 (1998). However, the trial court's underlying findings of fact are reviewed for clear error. Echavarria, supra at 366, 592 N.W.2d 737; People v. Mendez, 225 Mich.App. 381, 382, 571 N.W.2d 528 (1997).

Both the United States and Michigan Constitutions guarantee the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. US Const, Am IV, and Const 1963, art 1, § 11.3 The lawfulness of a search or seizure depends on its reasonableness. Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 121 S.Ct. 946, 148 L.Ed.2d 838 (2001); People v. Snider, 239 Mich.App. 393, 406, 608 N.W.2d 502 (2000). As a general rule, searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment unless the police conduct falls under one of the established exceptions to the warrant requirement. People v. Borchard-Ruhland, 460 Mich. 278, 293-294, 597 N.W.2d 1 (1999); People v. Davis, 442 Mich. 1, 10, 497 N.W.2d 910 (1993); Snider, supraat 407, 608 N.W.2d 502.


Relevant to the present appeal is the "exigent circumstances" exception, characterized by our Supreme Court in In re Forfeiture of $176,598, 443 Mich. 261, 271, 505 N.W.2d 201 (1993), as follows:

Pursuant to the exigent circumstances exception, we hold that the police may enter a dwelling without a warrant if the officers possess probable cause to believe that a crime was recently committed on the premises, and probable cause to believe that the premises contain evidence or perpetrators of the suspected crime. The police must further establish the existence of an actual emergency on the basis of specific and objective facts indicating that immediate action is necessary to (1) prevent the imminent destruction of evidence, (2) protect the police officers or others, or (3) prevent the escape of a suspect. If the police discover evidence of a crime following the entry without a warrant, that evidence may be admissible.

See also People v. Cartwright, 454 Mich. 550, 559, 563 N.W.2d 208 (1997); Davis, supra at 10, 497 N.W.2d 910; Snider, supra at 408, 608 N.W.2d 502.

Thus, under the exigent circumstances exception, the elements of probable cause and reasonableness must still be demonstrated. Cartwright, supra at 558, 563 N.W.2d 208; Davis, supra at 24, 497 N.W.2d 910. Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances known to the police officers at the time of the search would lead a reasonably prudent person to believe that a crime has been or is being committed and that evidence will be found in a particular place. People v. Williams, 160 Mich.App. 656, 660, 408 N.W.2d 415 (1987). See also Borchard Ruhland, supra at 293-294, 597 N.W.2d 1; Davis, supra at 10, 497 N.W.2d 910.

In the instant case, defendant argues that the 911 call alone does not constitute an exigent circumstance sufficient to justify an entry into his home without a warrant. Although there is a dearth of authority from Michigan courts on this issue, two federal court decisions are pertinent to our resolution of this question. In support of his argument, defendant relies on United States v. Meixner, 2000 WL 1597736 (E.D.Mich., 2000), in which the defendant's live-in girlfriend called 911 during an argument between the couple. She hung up the telephone without speaking, and the defendant unplugged the telephone. The police responded to the defendant's residence and knocked on the door. There was no sound coming from the home. The defendant answered, and the officers could see that his girlfriend was uninjured but appeared to be crying and intoxicated. The officers asked the defendant to let them in, and he belligerently refused. They then ordered the defendant to stand outside the house, telling him that they would arrest him if he refused. The defendant complied, and the officers entered the defendant's home. The defendant's girlfriend at that time denied placing the 911 call. The officers, not accepting the representation that there was no trouble at the residence, searched the house for weapons and for other persons in need of aid and found firearms in the bedroom and closet. Subsequently, a warrant was obtained and executed on the basis of the information gained in the entry into defendant's home, and the firearms were seized. The Meixner Court held the entry into and search of the defendant's home was unlawful, stating:

Although there does not appear to be a case decided in this circuit on the question of whether a 911 call can provide a sufficient basis to find exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless home entry, the issue has been addressed by the Seventh Circuit in United States v. Richardson, 208 F.3d 626 (C.A.7, 2000), on which the Magistrate Judge in this case placed heavy reliance. In Richardson, the Court concluded that the 911 emergency call in that case supported the Milwaukee police officers' reasonable belief that someone inside a home was in need of immediate assistance, and therefore exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of the premises. The Court noted that "911 calls reporting an emergency can be enough to support warrantless searches under the exigent circumstances exception, particularly where, as here, the caller identified himself." Id. at 630. The 911 call in that case was placed by a man who identified himself by name and reported that a man named "Lucky" had raped and murdered a woman who could be found in the basement of the subject premises. Although the Milwaukee Police Department had received a previous 911 call reporting a murder at the same address one week earlier, the officers who responded to the scene did not know about the prior, false alarm. When the officers arrived at the scene, they saw the defendant in front of...

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