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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2016 > State v. Williams, 2016 Ohio 439

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State v. Williams, 2016 Ohio 439

Question: When responding to a shots-fired call, observing fresh blood outside the residence door and hearing a commotion inside, may officers enter the dwelling without a warrant?

Quick Answer: Yes. When someone may be in need of immediate assistance police may enter a dwelling for the purpose of rendering aid.

Facts: Officers responded to a 911 call wherein the caller said someone was yelling inside an apartment and “busting off caps.” When the officers arrived they observed fresh blood directly outside the apartment door. They knocked and when someone eventually answered they entered the apartment and went from room to room to determine if anyone was injured or determine if someone inside had a weapon. Inside they located drugs, drug paraphernalia and a handgun. Williams, who was present inside the apartment, admitted he lived there, slept in the room the drugs were found, knew the gun was in the apartment and handled it previously. On appeal, Williams challenged the entry and subsequent search of the apartment. The Court pointed out the emergency exception to the search warrant requirement, based on specific and articulable facts, permitted officers to enter and search for someone in need of immediate assistance or an assailant with a weapon. Once they observed the items in plain view they were subject to a lawful seizure.

Keep in Mind: In an emergency situation, officers are limited to search only those areas in which a person may be. Once the emergency is resolved, officers must obtain a search warrant to justify a further search for evidence.