Officers’ entry into home to chase bloodied dog unreasonable, justices rule

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that drug evidence obtained by police after they entered a home without a warrant to capture an aggressive dog should not have been admitted at the defendant’s trial. The justices held the search violated Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

Police went to the Fort Wayne home of Jonathan D. Carpenter on reports of dogs fighting. Carpenter was not home at the time, but neighbors gave police his cell phone number. Police did not call Carpenter to find out if anyone was inside the home. Officers saw four bloody and aggressive dogs behind a fence with a locked gate running in and out of the home. Concerned that someone may be inside the home and in danger, police hopped the fence to find a dog that had ran inside. While looking for it, they discovered marijuana plants.

This led to police obtaining a search warrant, seizing the marijuana and other controlled substances. Carpenter was arrested when he returned home.

The trial court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The justices, using the Section 11 analysis, determined the police conduct was not reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

“[A]lthough the police unquestionably have an interest in protecting the public from risk of harm from a violent dog, this interest does not confer blanket authority to enter private homes under all circumstances,” Justice Mark Massa wrote for the unanimous court in Jonathan D. Carpenter v. State of Indiana,02S05-1404-CR-246.

“Any threat of danger to the outside public was slight; the dog was confined in a fenced yard secured by a locked gate, and the officers could have further prevented the dog’s escape by closing the sliding door. The dogs’ aggressive behavior and bloodied appearance simply were not enough to give rise to a reasonable belief that a person was in danger of imminent harm or in need of immediate assistance. Moreover, the officers did not need to enter to address the situation. They had Carpenter’s phone number, and calling him or his employer to ensure that no one was in the residence would not have been overly burdensome.”

“Our opinion today does not mean that an animal’s condition or behavior could never give rise to reasonable grounds upon which a police officer could enter a residence without a warrant,” Massa explained. “All we hold is that on these facts, the trial court erred in concluding entry was reasonable without any objective evidence that a person required immediate assistance. Because we have resolved this issue under our Indiana Constitution, we need not consider Carpenter’s claim that the admission of the evidence found in his home violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.”

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