State v. Geisler, 14365

Citation222 Conn. 672,610 A.2d 1225
Decision Date18 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 14365,14365
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Parties, 61 USLW 2093 STATE of Connecticut v. Martin GEISLER.

Covello, J., dissented and filed opinion.

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was Steven M. Sellers, Asst. State's Atty., for appellant (State).

Richard Emanuel, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was G. Douglas Nash, Public Defender, for appellee (defendant).


BERDON, Associate Justice.

In this appeal, the issue we certified for review is whether "the Appellate Court [was] correct in reversing the trial court's factual finding that the police reasonably believed that the defendant was in need of emergency assistance, thus rendering entry of the defendant's home lawful under the emergency doctrine?" State v. Geisler, 220 Conn. 918, 597 A.2d 342 (1991). We conclude that the Appellate Court properly held, on the basis of the facts found by the trial court, that pursuant to the state constitution the warrantless entry was not justified under the emergency doctrine. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

In a three count substitute information, the defendant, Martin Geisler, was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(2), 1 assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60d 2 and evading responsibility in violation of General Statutes § 14-224(a). 3 The charges stemmed from a motor vehicle accident involving the defendant and Mark Brunstad, who was operating a motorcycle.

On January 27, 1988, the trial court, Lewis, J., denied the defendant's motion to suppress the results of the defendant's blood alcohol tests, the defendant's statements made at his home and at the station house, and the videotape of the defendant's arrest. The trial court found that the evidence had been properly obtained because exigent circumstances justified the police officers' warrantless entry into the defendant's home, which subsequently resulted in his arrest. Thereafter, a jury convicted the defendant on all three counts.

The defendant did not appeal the judgment of his conviction for evading responsibility. The defendant appealed from the judgments convicting him of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor and assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle. The Appellate Court, sitting en banc, with three judges dissenting, set aside the convictions, holding that the trial court should have granted the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained after the warrantless entry. State v. Geisler, 22 Conn.App. 142, 148, 576 A.2d 1283 (1990) (Geisler I ). The Appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court with direction to render a judgment of acquittal on the charge of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor 4 and to conduct a new trial on the second degree assault charge. This court denied the state's petition for certification. State v. Geisler, 215 Conn. 819, 576 A.2d 547 (1990).

Thereafter, the state petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, raising two questions. 5 The first question sought a determination that the Appellate Court had improperly applied the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement for a search of a private dwelling. In the second question, the state alternatively claimed that even if the entry into the private dwelling was illegal, suppression of the evidence subsequently obtained outside the home and at the police station was not required under New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14, 110 S.Ct. 1640, 109 L.Ed.2d 13 (1990). The court granted the petition for a writ of certiorari as to the second issue, vacated the Appellate Court's judgment and remanded the case to the Appellate Court for further consideration in light of New York v. Harris, supra. Connecticut v. Geisler, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 663, 112 L.Ed.2d 657 (1991).

On remand, the Appellate Court, sitting en banc, with two judges dissenting, concluded that although under Harris the federal exclusionary rule would not require suppressing the evidence obtained by the police after they left the defendant's home, the Connecticut constitution extends greater protection to citizens of our state. The Appellate Court again ruled the evidence inadmissible, but this time it based its holding on state constitutional grounds. State v. Geisler, 25 Conn.App. 282, 292, 594 A.2d 985 (1991) (Geisler II ). We then granted the state's petition for certification to review the certified issue.

In Geisler I, supra, at 144-47, 576 A.2d 1283 and in Geisler II, supra, 25 Conn.App. at 285, 594 A.2d 985, the Appellate Court detailed the facts found by the trial court at the suppression hearing. We will discuss only those facts pertinent to the issues raised here. At approximately 3 p.m. on July 24, 1986, Brunstad was driving a motorcycle westbound on Long Lots Road in Westport. At the intersection of Long Lots Road and Bayberry Lane, Brunstad and a car traveling east on Long Lots Road collided, resulting in injuries to Brunstad. As he lay injured, Brunstad watched the car turn north on Bayberry Lane. When the police arrived, Brunstad described the car as a red Peugeot station wagon, and the driver as an older man with gray hair and glasses. Brunstad also told the police that the driver had stopped, had looked back at him and then had driven away.

Officer Michael Barrett of the Westport police department arrived at the scene of the accident while emergency personnel were attending to Brunstad. Barrett observed glass debris, a piece of trim and the front grille of a Peugeot. Westport police Sergeant Leonard Rummo told Barrett that a red Peugeot station wagon had hit Brunstad and then had fled the scene. Barrett assisted with traffic control for approximately twenty minutes and then was sent to check driveways on Bayberry Lane to try to locate the red Peugeot.

Approximately one mile from the accident scene, Barrett saw a red Peugeot station wagon in a driveway. He ran a check on the vehicle's registration and obtained the defendant's name and Bayberry Lane address. Barrett observed that the Peugeot's door was ajar with the keys in the ignition. Additionally, the left front fender was dented, the trim and the plastic front grill were missing, the left headlight was broken, and the front fender had hair fibers attached to it.

Shortly thereafter, Westport police officer Gordon Hiltz arrived at the Bayberry Lane home to assist Barrett. Hiltz noticed that the Peugeot's radiator felt warm, as if the car had been recently operated. The officers circled the house and then approached the front door. The inner door was open, but the screen door was closed. The officers rang the doorbell, knocked on the door and shouted through the screen door, but received no response. They again walked around the perimeter of the house and knocked on windows, but received no response. The officers knocked on the front door again, yelled into the house and still received no response. At this time, the officers discussed the possibility that the operator of the Peugeot might have been injured in the accident and might need assistance. At the suppression hearing, the officers testified that they had considered the following factors to be relevant in making that determination: the damage to the car; the victim's description of the driver as "older"; their belief that the driver might have been rendered unconscious or might have suffered a heart attack; and their "collective experience" as police officers. The officers entered the defendant's house without a warrant.

Once inside the house, the officers yelled "Anyone home?" into the kitchen, but received no response. From the kitchen the officers could see across a hallway into a bedroom. They saw someone lying on the bed and called out to the person. That person, the defendant, did not respond, and the officers entered the bedroom. The defendant lay fully clothed, either asleep or unconscious, and they smelled an odor of alcohol in the room.

The officers shook the defendant to awaken him and "to see if he was all right." The defendant awoke, the officers asked if he was all right, and he replied that he was. The officers observed no visible injuries, the defendant complained of none, and the officers determined that the defendant was not injured.

While still in the bedroom, Barrett asked the defendant if he had been drinking, and he responded in the affirmative. In response to the officers' questions, he admitted that the red Peugeot in the driveway belonged to him and that he had returned to his home an hour earlier. 6 The officers asked the defendant to step outside where they questioned him further and then placed him under arrest. 7 The defendant entered the patrol car and was read his Miranda rights. 8

At the police station, the officers videotaped the defendant answering questions and participating in performance tests given to determine his sobriety. The police administered to the defendant, with his consent, two blood alcohol breathalyzer tests and photographed him.

On the basis of the above factual findings, the trial court determined that the officers' warrantless entry into the defendant's home was justified by exigent circumstances, namely the officers' reasonable beliefs that the defendant's life was endangered, that the defendant might attempt to flee, and that evidence might be destroyed. 9 The trial court further held that even if exigent circumstances did not exist, the blood alcohol results, the videotape of the defendant at the station house and the statements to the police were not "fruits of an illegal arrest," and, therefore, were admissible. The trial court...

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