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Community-caretaking duties permits warrantless search

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A warrantless search that led to discovery of marijuana and a handgun did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the police found the items as part of their “community-caretaking” duties.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Nick McIlquham’s challenge to the search of his apartment and affirmed his convictions in Nick McIlquham v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1212-CR-631. The court ruled the community-caretaking exception to the warrant requirement allowed for this warrantless search.

Two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers searched McIlquham’s apartment over concerns about the welfare of his young daughter who had been found partially naked wandering alone near a retention pond.

They discovered the drugs and loaded .22 caliber handgun. McIlquham was subsequently convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Class B felony; neglect of a dependent, a class D felony; possession of marijuana, a class A misdemeanor; and possession of paraphernalia, a class A misdemeanor.  

McIlquham appealed, arguing the evidence should have been excluded at his trial. He claimed neither he nor the individual renting the apartment gave permission to the officers to look around which made the search a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

The appeals court disagreed on the grounds that the “community-caretaking function” of the police makes the warrantless search objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Police, in addition to their duties to enforce criminal laws, are called upon to do a variety of tasks that enhance and maintain the safety of the community. Questions about McIlquham’s daughter’s home life met the community-caretaking standard.

 “In our view, there were certainly objectively reasonable concerns about McIlquham’s right to retain custody of R. in light of the conditions and circumstances in which she was discovered,” Judge John Baker wrote. “Moreover, not allowing the police to conduct a community-caretaking function to operate in a case such as this one – at least to the extent of allowing a non-violent entry into a home to conduct a cursory visual inspection of the interior of the residence and its occupants – would result in the unreasonableness that Fourth Amendment jurisprudence seeks to avoid.”



 

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