State v. Matalonis

Decision Date10 February 2016
Docket NumberNo. 2014AP108–CR.,2014AP108–CR.
Citation366 Wis.2d 443,875 N.W.2d 567
Parties STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff–Respondent–Petitioner, v. Charles V. MATALONIS, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

For the plaintiff-respondent-petitioner, the case was argued by Donald V. Latorraca, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs was Brad D. Schimel, attorney general.

For the defendant-appellant, there was a brief by Mark D. Richards, Brian P. Dimmer and Mark D. Richards, S.C., Racine, and oral arguments by Mark D. Richards.

ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J.

¶ 1 This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals, State v. Matalonis, No. 2014AP108–CR, unpublished slip op., 2014 WL 7271620 (Wis.Ct.App. Dec. 23, 2014), which reversed the Kenosha County circuit court's1 judgment of conviction and order denying defendant Charles V. Matalonis's ("Matalonis") motion to suppress evidence of marijuana production in Matalonis's home. Police obtained this evidence while investigating the source of injuries sustained by Matalonis's brother, Antony.

¶ 2 We are asked to determine whether a warrantless search by police of Matalonis's home, including, importantly, of a room secured by a locked, blood- spattered door, was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution. The State argues that the police officers in this case acted reasonably on the night in question because (1) the police officers were reasonably exercising a bona fide "community caretaker" function in ensuring the absence of injured persons in the home; and (2) the police officers reasonably believed that a protective sweep of the home was necessary to guarantee their own safety.

¶ 3 We conclude that the officers in this case reasonably exercised a bona fide community caretaker function when they searched Matalonis's home. The officers therefore were not required to obtain a warrant prior to conducting the search in question, and the evidence of marijuana production they obtained should not be suppressed. Because the search was lawful under the community caretaker doctrine, we need not determine whether the search was also justified as a protective sweep. We reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the case to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On January 15, 2012, at about 2:45 a.m., Officers Brian Ruha ("Officer Ruha") and David Yandel ("Officer Yandel") of the Kenosha Police Department were dispatched for a medical call to the upper unit of an address on 45th Street in Kenosha.2 When Officer Ruha arrived at the address, he observed "what appeared to be blood all over the door." He knocked on the door, entered, and there met Antony Matalonis ("Antony"). Antony looked as though "he may have been battered[;] ... his whole right side of his body was covered in blood." Additionally, Antony seemed "highly intoxicated." Antony initially told Officer Ruha that he had been beaten up by four different groups of people outside of a bar, but some time later said that he was beaten up by four people outside of a bar. The resident at the address told Officer Ruha that Antony lived down the street with his brother. Antony was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.

¶ 5 Officer Yandel arrived at the address as Antony was being placed in the ambulance. Officer Yandel "could tell that [Antony] had a bloody face. [Antony] had blood on his shirt. He seemed pretty beat up." Officer Yandel went to the back door leading to the upper unit of the residence, and "noticed a large amount of blood that led up the stairwell to that apartment."

¶ 6 After the ambulance departed, Officer Ruha and Officer Yandel "checked the surrounding area to determine where [the] blood had originated from" in order to "find out where [Antony] came from ... and if anyone else was even involved," because the resident of the upper apartment had explained that Antony had arrived at the residence already injured. There was snow on the ground, and the officers found a single "blood trail" in the snow, which they followed.

¶ 7 The blood led to the side door of a residence on Fifth Avenue. "There was blood on a screen door and then on the inside of the screen door. And there was another wooden door, and there was blood on that door as well." The officers heard two loud bangs coming from inside the residence that sounded to Officer Yandel like "[t]hings being shuffled around in the house."3

¶ 8 The officers then called for backup because, according to Officer Ruha, "we had no idea what was going on inside the residence," and according to Officer Yandel, because "[i]t's protocol in case we had to enter that residence to check the welfare of anybody if we couldn't make contact. It was a pretty significant amount of blood, and we were concerned that maybe somebody was injured inside."

¶ 9 The officers went to the front door of the residence and knocked on the door. Matalonis "answered the door without a shirt on. He didn't appear to be injured at all, but he appeared to be out of breath." He was not intoxicated but "seemed pretty upset about something." Officer Yandel "noticed there was blood in the foyer on the floor" as well as "blood to the right which led up to a stairwell." Matalonis testified that he had been cleaning up blood when the officers arrived.

¶ 10 The officers asked Matalonis who lived at the residence and Matalonis responded that he lived alone. The officers told Matalonis about the injured individual they had met and the blood trail leading to the side door of Matalonis's house. Matalonis explained that he had been in a fight with his brother Antony, but that his brother had left. According to Officer Yandel's police report, Matalonis stated, "Yeah, my brother left already. It was just me and my brother fighting. I just had to do what I had to do to defend myself but he's gone now." The officers told Matalonis "that because there was blood in the house, [they] just wanted to make sure that no one else was injured." Matalonis let the officers into the house.4

¶ 11 Once the officers were inside the house, they directed Matalonis to sit on the couch in his living room.5 The officers did not place Matalonis in handcuffs or tell him that he was under arrest. Officer Yandel did not frisk Matalonis.6 Officer Ruha then conducted a search of the residence "to make sure that no one else was inside the house or even injured in the house that needed medical attention" while Officer Yandel stayed behind with Matalonis. At no time did Officer Yandel point a weapon at Matalonis.

¶ 12 Officer Ruha began his search on the lower level of the house, where the officers and Matalonis were located. He found "a couple drops of blood" in the living room,7 and then moved into the kitchen where he found "another couple drops of blood." A bucket of water and a mop were in the kitchen. Officer Ruha went to the basement area but "didn't locate any blood down there."8 Officer Ruha returned to the lower level and proceeded up the stairs to the second floor. On the stairs to the second floor "there [were] what appeared to be droplets of blood on the carpet and blood smeared all along the wall leading upstairs."

¶ 13 Upstairs, "[t]here appeared to be blood all over the handrail. There was a mirror that was down that was broken. There [were] shards laying all over the floor." Officer Ruha moved into a "little living area" to his left, but "didn't locate anyone in there." He did, however, observe "various pipes and other smoking utensils used for smoking marijuana." This included "a small silver grinder that lay opened on the coffee table containing a green leafy substance that [Officer Ruha] identified as marijuana through [his] training and experience." Then he continued right, and "saw that there was a door with a deadbolt that had blood splatters on the door itself."9 Officer Ruha tried unsuccessfully to open the door, which was locked. He then moved past the door and into a bathroom. There were no individuals in the bathroom, but Officer Ruha saw a "ceramic water bong used for smoking marijuana." Officer Ruha went back to the locked door, where he "could not hear anyone inside, but ... did smell a strong odor of marijuana coming through [the] door and ... heard a fan running." Officer Ruha testified that at that point he was "interested in knowing that there's no one injured behind that door."10 Since he "realized that [the locked room] was the only place [he] could not get into to check," Officer Ruha went back downstairs to ask Matalonis for the key to the room in order "to ensure that no one is injured behind that door."

¶ 14 While Officer Ruha was searching the house, Officer Yandel asked Matalonis about the fight he had had with his brother Antony. Matalonis described what had happened. He also mentioned that somebody lived in the basement of the house. At some point in their conversation, Matalonis asked Officer Yandel "if, while they were doing their sweep [of the house], [he] could continue cleaning up the blood from the fight." According to Matalonis, Officer Yandel did not allow him to do so, but instead told Matalonis that he "had to stay right where [he was] and to not get up."11

¶ 15 Officer Ruha returned to the living room. According to Matalonis, Officer Ruha's search took "10 to 15 minutes." Testimony regarding the conversation that followed differed slightly when recounted by Matalonis, Officer Ruha, and Officer Yandel. According to Matalonis, Officer Ruha asked Matalonis what was in the locked room. Matalonis responded that the room was "a security room where I keep my valuables."12 Officer Ruha then "said he needed to get in the room, and he was going to kick the door down unless [Matalonis] told him where the key was." At some point during the conversation, according to Matalonis, Officer Ruha asked whether there was anyone...

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    ...Wis.2d 1, 875 N.W.2d 619 (a warrantless blood draw was constitutional under the exigent circumstances exception); State v. Matalonis , 2016 WI 7, 366 Wis.2d 443, 875 N.W.2d 567 (a warrantless search of a home was constitutional pursuant to the community caretaker exception); State v. Dumstr......
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4 books & journal articles
  • § 11.01 Exigency Exception: Explained
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Procedure, Volume One: Investigation (CAP) (2021) Title Chapter 11 Warrantless Searches: Exigent Circumstances
    • Invalid date
    ...residence when a trail of blood led to the door of the residence and there was blood on the outside of the door, State v. Matalonis, 875 N.W.2d 567 (Wis. 2016). In regard to non-criminal investigations generally, see Chapters 15 (inventory searches) and 18 (various "special needs" circumsta......
  • § 11.01 EXIGENCY EXCEPTION: EXPLAINED
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Procedure, Volume One: Investigation (CAP) (2017) Title Chapter 11 Warrantless Searches: Exigent Circumstances
    • Invalid date
    ...residence when a trail of blood led to the door of the residence and there was blood on the outside of the door, State v. Matalonis, 875 N.W.2d 567 (Wis. 2016). In regard to noncriminal investigations generally, see Chapters 15 (inventory searches) and 18 (various "special needs" circumstan......
  • TABLE OF CASES
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Procedure, Volume One: Investigation (CAP) (2017) Title Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...v. United States, 538 U.S. 500 (2003), 561 Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964), 53, 429, 484, 489, 494 Matalonis, State v., 875 N.W.2d 567 (Wis. 2016), 182 Matlock, United States v., 415 U.S. 164 (1974), 249, 250, 257, 261 Matos, Commonwealth v., 672 A.2d 769 (Pa. 1996), 118 Mavre......
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    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Procedure, Volume One: Investigation (CAP) (2021) Title Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...States, 538 U.S. 500 (2003), 611, 612 Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964), 468, 521, 526, 538, 544, 578 Matalonis, State v., 875 N.W.2d 567 (Wis. 2016), 199 Matlock, United States v., 415 U.S. 164 (1974), 265, 266, 274, 278 Matos, Commonwealth v., 672 A.2d 769 (Pa. 1996), 127 Mavr......

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