SCOTUS Upholds Warrantless Entry of Home Based on Pretextual Medical Concerns of Officer

On December 7, 2009, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in People v Fisher, Docket No. 276439, 2008 WL 786515, *1 (Mich. App., Mar. 25, 2008). Michigan v. Fisher, Supreme Court No. 09-91. In Fisher, the Brownstown Township Police arrived at the defendant’s home on a public disturbance call. When the police arrived, they found the premise in “considerable chaos.” The officers knocked on the door and the defendant ignored them. Through the window, the police could see that the defendant barricaded the door. Police saw a cut on the Defendant’s hand and asked if he needed medical attention. The defendant was standing and per the Michigan Court of Appeals, the injury did not appear to be life threatening. The defendant simply told the police to leave and to get a search warrant. The officer forced his way into the home and was confronted by the defendant who pointed a rifle at them. Fisher was charged under Michigan law with assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The Michigan Courts ultimately affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the search was illegal.

Relying on its prior ruling in
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U. S. 398 (2006), the Court peremptorily reversed. Even though the State Court essentially found that the police officer’s excuse for entering the home (to provide medical assistance) was pretextual, the United States Supreme Court stated that the officer’s motives are irrelevant and that the a Court should not judge the officer’s decision with a hindsight determination. Justices Stevens and Sotomayor dissented.