What is the Exigent Circumstances Exception?

Exigent circumstances is a fifth exception to the warrant requirement. In order to sustain a search under this exception, the police must demonstrate that emergent circumstances existed, and they must clearly show that probable cause to search existed at the time of the search. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 446 U.S. 740, 749 (1984); Dorman v. United States, 435 F.2d  385, 393 (D.C. Cir. 1970) (en banc); State v. Hutchins,  116 N.J. 457, 476 (1989). Three situations exist which justify a warrantless search under this exception: 1) potential destruction or removal of evidence, Schmerber v. Califronia,  384 U.S. 757, 770 (1966); State v. Hutchins,  116 N.J. at 467 n.1; State v. Lewis,  116 N.J. AT 487; 2) hot pursuit of a felon, Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 298-299 (1967); State v. Bolte, 115 N.J. 579, 592-593, cert. denied,  493 U.S. 939 (1989) and 3) imminent danger to human life. Michigan v. Tyler,  436 U.S. 499, 509-510 (1978); State v. Scott, 231 N.J. Super. 258, 274-75 (App. Div. 1989)

Determining Whether Exigent Circumstances Exist

When determining whether exigent circumstances exist because of the possible destruction or removal of evidence, the courts have specified eleven factors to consider:

  • the gravity of the offense;
  • whether information exists indicating that the possessors of the contraband are aware the police are on their trail;
  • the possibility of danger to the police officer guarding the site of the contraband while a search warrant is sought;
  • the degree of urgency involved and the amount of time necessary to obtain a warrant:
  • whether a reasonable belief exists that the contraband is about to be removed;
  • the ready destructibility of the contraband and the knowledge that efforts to dispose of the contraband and to escape are characteristic behavior of persons engaged in this type of crime;
  • the possibility the suspect is armed;
  • the strengths and weaknesses of the facts establishing probable cause;
  • the time of the entry;
  • whether the exigent circumstances were intentionally “police-created;”
  • whether the physical character of the premises is conducive to police surveillance while a warrant is obtained. State v. Valencia, 93 J. at 137, quoting United States v. Rubin, 474 F.2d 262, 268-69 (3d Cir. 1973) State v. Alvarez, 238 N.J. Super 560, 568 (App. Div. 1990).

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