Monday, April 2, 2012
C.A. Reverses Order Suppressing Evidence Seized at Killing Scene
Justices Say Exigent Circumstances Justified Entry by ‘Second Wave’ of Officers
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has largely overturned a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s order suppressing evidence seized in the home where a local man admittedly shot his adult son to death.
Div. Eight, in an opinion Thursday by Justice Madeleine Flier, said Judge Michael Pastor erred in suppressing a significant amount of evidence seized from the home of Carl Edward Chapman. The panel ruled that exigent circumstances, which the defense conceded allowed police to enter the residence to look for weapons or aid possible injury victims, also allowed a “second wave” of officers to come in without a warrant and seize evidence that the earlier entrants had seen in plain view but left undisturbed.
According to testimony at the 2007 suppression hearing, police responding to the shooting scene were told by neighbors that they had heard shots inside the house. After being ordered out, Chapman emerged with his girlfriend and was placed in handcuffs.
While Chapman was being patted down, police discovered and seized a loaded pistol magazine. His hysterical girlfriend pointed at Chapman and screamed “he shot him.”
Chapman, asked if he had any weapons, responded “Just help him. Help him.”
Officers testified that they entered the premises for a few minutes to look for weapons or injured persons. They found Brian Chapman dead on the floor.
They also observed shell casings on the ground, bullet holes in the walls, and blood. After sweeping the premises, they allowed the paramedics to enter.
Confesses to Shooting
Chapman was then taken to the police station, and several hours later he confessed to shooting his son four times. After the questioning, the detective who conducted it returned to the scene, where officers had been continually present to secure the scene, and had been joined by criminalists and coroner’s personnel, and began collecting evidence.
All of the evidence was found in plain view, the detective testified, except for a shell casing found beneath the body after it was removed by the coroner, a depression in the floor beneath the body (indicating a gunshot), and a bullet fragment found inside the refrigerator.
In moving to suppress, the defense argued that once Brian Chapman was pronounced dead and the defendant taken from the scene, there was no longer an emergency and that the subsequent warrantless seizure of evidence violated the Fourth Amendment. The prosecution responded that the search was supported by the original exigent circumstances, by the defendant’s consent—implicit in his request that police help his son—and by the inevitable discovery doctrine.
Pastor granted the motion in part and denied it in part.
Evidence observed by the original responders was admissible based on exigent circumstances, the judge said. He also declined to suppress the victim’s body, including the autopsy results and a bullet fragment taken from the victim’s brain, or well as photographs of the body taken at the scene by the coroners.
But Pastor agreed with defense counsel that the emergency ended before the second wave of officers entered, so that evidence observed or seized by them was inadmissible. He also held that Chapman’s request that officers help his son did not constitute consent for entry by officers who were not yet on the scene.
Prosecutors petitioned for a writ of mandate setting aside the suppression order. The Court of Appeal stayed the trial, which had been scheduled for May of last year, pending a ruling on the petition.
Flier, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that with the exception of the bullet fragment found inside the refrigerator, all of the evidence was legally obtained.
“Generally, an independent justification is required for every warrantless entry by police, including those instances when the officers initially enter a residence lawfully but depart the premises and reenter later,” the jurist wrote. “…But California decisions uphold an officer’s reentry to seize evidence observed in plain view during a lawful entry but not seized initially because the officer was performing a duty that took priority over the seizure of evidence.”
Lost Expectation of Privacy
The justice cited People v. McDowell (1988) 46 Cal.3d 551, in which an officer reentered a residence to retrieve evidence observed in plain view while pursuing a murder suspect. In this case, Flier said, there was even greater reason to uphold the search, because there had been a continuous police presence at the scene.
In addition, she explained, the defendant lost any expectation of privacy with respect to evidence in plain view, when he invited the first wave responders into his residence. “The entry of the second wave responders to further observe, photograph, and collect this plain-view evidence began within minutes and was reasonable under the circumstances,” the justice reasoned.
Attorneys in the Court of Appeal were Deputy District Attorneys Roberta Schwartz and Tracey Lopez for the prosecution and Robert Sheahen and Kelly Sheahen Gerner for the defendant.
The case is People v. Superior Court (Chapman), 12 S.O.S. 1491.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company