United States v. Willie Evans (11th Cir. May 2020)

The Federal Docket

May 8, 2020

Fourth Amendment – Officers had objectively reasonable belief that a whimpering dog was a human in need of emergency aid, justifying a warrantless search of a home, where they had reason to believe a person was inside the home, they were responding to claims of gun shots, and the defendant in custody was uncooperative in surrendering himself from the home.

Willie Evans challenged the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of his house. After Evans was arrested by officers responding to a 911 call regarding shots fired, officers claimed to hear whimpering coming from inside his house. Without a warrant, the officers kicked down the door and searched the house, only to find that the whimpering was coming from Evans’ dog and a cache of firearms.

The government claimed that, despite the false alarm, the officers were reasonable in conducting a warrantless search of the house under the “emergency aid exception.” The emergency aid exception allows for the warrantless entry of a home “to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.”

On appeal, the Court affirmed Evans’ sentence, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers reasonably believed someone inside the house was in need of emergency aid. The Court noted that Evans’ girlfriend was still inside the house, the nature of the 911 call, and Evans’ lack of “candor and cooperation.” It rejected Evans’ contention that it is “objectively unreasonable for a trained police officer to hear a dog whimpering and claim he cannot tell the difference between a whimpering dog and a human in pain.”

The Court also rejected the defendant’s challenges to the court’s sentencing guidelines calculations.

Appeal from the Southern District of Florida

Opinion by Grant, joined by Rosenbaum and Hull

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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