By Gretchen Schuldt
Police who searched the home of a man they had just arrested had no legitimate reason to do so without a warrant, a State Court of Appeals panel ruled this week.
The panel granted Jesse J. Jennerjohn's request to suppress the evidence police found in the search.
The ruling is the second time this month an appeals court rejected the state's claims that law enforcement was acting in its "community caretaker" role when conducting a warrantless search.
That exception to the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement allows officers to conduct searches without warrants when necessary to protect persons and property.
The Appleton police officers who searched the home of Jennerjohn, however, "were not exercising a bona fide community caretaker function," Appeals Judge Lisa K. Stark wrote for the District III Court of Appeals panel.
"Even if they were, the public interest in searching the residence did not outweigh the intrusion upon Jennerjohn’s privacy," she wrote. Stark was joined in her opinion by Appeals Judges Thomas M. Hruz and Mark A. Seidl.
According to Stark's opinion, Officer Dominic Hall responded to a report from Grumpy's Pub that a man was using profanity, throwing things, and was trying to start a fight at the bar.
Two bartenders told Hall they had expelled the patron, who warned them that they had "better run." One of the bartenders had written down the person's license plate number, and the car was registered to Jesse Jennerjohn.
When Hall and other officers went to Jennerjohn's house, they saw him and a woman standing outside the house next door. Jennerjohn ran inside his own house when he spotted the police.
One of the officers near Jennerjohn's car testified he could see a rifle case in the car but could not tell whether there was a weapon in it.
Hall testified during a suppression hearing that he knocked on Jennerjohn's door for several minutes and repeatedly announced the officers were with the Police Department and they wanted Jennerjohn to open up. Another officer said he could see Jennerjohn moving inside his house and did not see anyone else.
Jennerjohn's neighbor and a friend police contacted by phone told them Jennerjohn lived alone. So did his brother, who came to the scene.
Jennerjohn came out of his house voluntarily 30 to 60 minutes after police arrived. He was holding something – it turned out to be venison – in his hand. He made grunting, guttural sounds as he walked toward officers.
"He ignored the officers' commands to stop and yelled something akin to 'Just shoot me,'" Stark wrote.
Officers tased him and put him in handcuffs.
Jennerjohn eventually told police there were no people or animals in the house. One of the officers verified his statement by opening the door and calling out, “Appleton Police Department. If there’s anybody inside, announce yourself now.”
There was no response.
Police decided to conduct a "sweep" of the house and began searching it. When they entered, they did not announce their presence or call out to learn if anyone needed help.
An officer found in a closet two mason jars with marijuana in them. Police also found guns, which they gave to Jennerjohn's brother and a friend for safekeeping.
Jennerjohn was taken to the hospital and a social worker approved a 72-hour emergency detention.
Jennerjohn eventually was charged with possession of THC with intent to deliver. He moved to suppress the marijuana on the basis of an illegal search.
Outagamie Circuit Judge Mitchell J. Metropulos denied the motion, but the appeals panel reversed that decision.
Officers may have had reason to believe there were weapons in Jennerjohn's home, Stark wrote, but did not have a reasonable basis for the officers to "conclude that they needed to enter the home without a warrant immediately after Jennerjohn was detained in order to seize those firearms."
The man had been arrested and taken to the hospital, and police had no reason to believe he would be released soon.
There also was no reason for police to believe that anyone else was in the house, Stark said.
"In the absence of a bona fide community caretaker function, the officers in this case could not enter and search Jennerjohn’s home without a warrant, discover incriminating evidence, and subsequently use that evidence in a prosecution against Jennerjohn. Such a warrantless search is per se unreasonable," Stark wrote.
Jennerjohn was represented by Appleton attorney Carey J. Reed.
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