State v. Geisler, 6934

Citation576 A.2d 1283,22 Conn.App. 142
Decision Date11 May 1990
Docket NumberNo. 6934,6934
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Martin GEISLER.

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Eugene Callahan, State's Atty., and Warren Murray, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).

Before DUPONT, C.J., and BORDEN, SPALLONE, DALY, EDWARD Y. O'CONNELL, NORCOTT, FOTI and LAVERY, JJ.

NORCOTT, Judge.

The defendant was charged, by substitute information, with driving while under the influence of liquor in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(2), assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60d and evading responsibility in violation of General Statutes § 14-224(a). The prosecution arose out of a motor vehicle accident involving the defendant's automobile and a motorcycle. After a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty on all three counts. The defendant appeals only from the judgment of conviction of driving while under the influence of liquor and assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle; he does not appeal from the judgment of his conviction for evading responsibility.

The defendant claims (1) that the trial court should not have denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained after a warrantless arrest, (2) that the evidence was insufficient to establish the defendant's guilt of General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(2) and 53a-60d, and (3) that the court erred in its instructions to the jury on General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a), 53a-60d and 14-242. We reverse the trial court's judgment.

I THE MOTION TO SUPPRESS

The narrow issue regarding the defendant's first claim is whether the so called "emergency doctrine" justified the warrantless entry into the defendant's home. The following evidence was adduced at the hearing on the motion to suppress. On July 24, 1986, at approximately 3 p.m., the victim, Mark Brunstad, was operating a motorcycle westbound on Long Lots Road in Westport. At the intersection of Long Lots Road and Bayberry Lane, the victim was involved in an accident with a red Peugeot station wagon that was travelling east on Long Lots Road; the victim was injured in the accident.

After the accident, the victim observed the red Peugeot leave the scene, heading north on Bayberry Lane. When the police arrived, the victim gave them a description of both the vehicle that hit him and the driver of that vehicle. The victim described the driver of the Peugeot as an older man with gray hair and glasses. He gave no indication that the driver was injured or appeared intoxicated. He stated only that the driver stopped, looked back at him, and then drove away.

When Officer Michael Barrett of the Westport police department arrived at the accident scene, he observed an overturned motorcycle and the victim being attended to by emergency personnel. He further observed glass debris, a piece of trim and the front grille of a Peugeot. Sergeant Leonard Rummo of the Westport police department told Barrett that the victim had been hit by a red Peugeot station wagon that had fled the scene of the accident.

After assisting in traffic control for approximately twenty minutes, Barrett was dispatched to check driveways on Bayberry Lane in an attempt to locate a vehicle matching the description given by the victim. Approximately one mile from the accident scene, in a driveway adjacent to a house on Bayberry Lane, Barrett observed a red Peugeot station wagon. He ran a check on the vehicle's registration and was advised that the vehicle was registered under the name of Geisler at that address.

The Peugeot was parked in the driveway with its door ajar and the keys in the ignition. The left front fender of the vehicle was dented, it was missing a piece of trim, the left headlight was broken, the plastic front grille was missing and hair fibers were observed on the front fender.

Officer Gordon Hiltz of the Westport police department, who had also been dispatched to check driveways in the area, shortly thereafter, arrived at the Bayberry Lane home to assist Barrett. Upon his arrival, he noted that the Peugeot's radiator was warm, consistent with its having been recently operated.

Observing no one in the area, the officers circled the house and then approached the front door of the residence. The inner front door was open, but the outer screen door was closed. The officers rang the doorbell, knocked on the door, and shouted through the screen door. They received no response from anyone in the house, and they again walked around the perimeter of the residence, knocking on the windows in an attempt to arouse someone, if someone should happen to be in the house. They still received no response. Thereafter, the officers returned to the front door and again knocked on the door and yelled into the house. Again, they received no response.

At this point, the officers discussed the possibility that the operator of the Peugeot may have been injured and might be in need of assistance. They subsequently made a warrantless entry into the defendant's home. 1

At about 3:30 p.m., Barrett and Hiltz opened the closed screen door and entered the house "at the same time" and "for the same purported reason"--the possible injuries sustained by the operator of the Peugeot. They entered the kitchen, and yelled out "Anyone home?" but received no response. After walking into the house, from their vantage point in the kitchen, they could see across a hallway into a bedroom, where someone was lying on the bed. They again called out, but received no response. They then entered the bedroom, where they found the defendant, fully clothed, apparently either asleep or unconscious on the bed. There was an odor of alcohol in the bedroom.

The officers then shook the defendant to wake him up in order "to see if he was all right." The defendant awoke, they asked him if he was all right, and he replied that he was. The defendant had no visible injuries, nor did he complain of any, and the officers determined that he was not injured from the accident.

While still in the bedroom, Barrett, who was in uniform, asked the defendant if he had been drinking, and the defendant responded "Yes." In response to Barrett's further questioning, the defendant conceded that the red Peugeot outside was his and that he had been operating it. Barrett then asked the defendant when he had operated the Peugeot, and the defendant answered "I got home about an hour ago." All of these questions were asked in the bedroom, before the defendant had been advised of his Miranda 2 rights.

Barrett and Hiltz then asked the defendant to accompany them outside, and the defendant complied. Once outside, Barrett asked the defendant if the red Peugeot was the car he had been driving, and the defendant answered in the affirmative. The defendant was then asked if he was involved in an accident, and if he was driving the car when the damage occurred. The defendant responded in the negative. At that point, Barrett placed the defendant under arrest, handcuffed him, placed him in a patrol car, and advised him of his rights.

A THE TRIAL COURT'S RULING

Prior to the trial court's ruling on the defendant's motion to suppress, the parties, at the urging of the trial court, stipulated to the following: (1) probable cause existed for the defendant's arrest at the time of the warrantless entry and (2) the defendant was arrested inside his home by police who entered without a warrant. 3 The trial court found that "exigent circumstances" We first note that the state has conceded in its brief, and we agree, that there is no support for the court's findings regarding the risks of destruction of evidence and the defendant's flight, and that such findings cannot be justified on appeal. We, therefore, need address only the issue of whether the police officers reasonably believed that the defendant's life was in danger. Although the court, in its ruling, relied on the case of State v. Harris, 19 Conn.App. 174, 561 A.2d 459, cert. denied, 212 Conn. 814, 565 A.2d 537 (1989), in which this court set forth the standards for "exigent circumstances," we agree with the parties to this appeal that the court confused "exigent circumstances" with the "emergency doctrine" in concluding that the warrantless entry was justified.

                existed to justify the warrantless entry by the police.   The exigent circumstances found by the court were the officers' "reasonable belief" that the defendant's "life was endangered," that the defendant might attempt to flee, and the danger of destruction of evidence.   The court further concluded that even if the police did not have exigent circumstances to enter the house, the blood alcohol results, the videotape of the defendant's arrest, and the defendant's statements to the police were not the "fruit of an illegal arrest" and were, therefore, admissible
                
B THE EMERGENCY DOCTRINE

It is fundamental that " 'physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed....' " Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1379, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980), quoting United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 2134, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972); see also State v. Gallagher, 191 Conn. 433, 443, 465 A.2d 323 (1983). Warrantless searches and seizures inside a home are presumptively unreasonable; see Payton v. New York, supra, 445 U.S. at 586, 100 S.Ct. at 1380; and the state bears the burden of showing that "exigent circumstances" exist to justify the entry into a private home for the purpose of conducting a search or effecting an arrest without a warrant. State v. Klauss, 19 Conn.App. 296, 300, 562 A.2d 558 (1989); State v. Enright, 17 Conn.App. 142, 147, 550 A.2d 1095 (1988).

The "emergency doctrine" is well established in the law of...

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26 cases
  • State v. Luurtsema
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 24, 2002
    ...holding in Harris. Id., 690. We note that our decision in Geisler, was preceded by two Appellate Court decisions, State v. Geisler, 22 Conn. App. 142, 576 A.2d 1283 (Geisler I), cert. denied, 215 Conn. 819, 576 A.2d 547 (1990), vacated, 498 U.S. 1019, 111 S. Ct. 663, 112 L. Ed. 2d 657 (1991......
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  • State v. Geisler
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    • June 18, 1992
    ...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 ......
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