Protective sweep unlawful; no exigent circumstances when investigating “noise at vacant house”

State v. Ibarra-Raya, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed July 1, 2008.

Around 2:00 AM, police received 911 call of noise from a vacant house. Police went out to investigate and saw lights on and heard party noises, but nothing alarming. Police saw a truck without a license plate, but with a temporary permit. Police learned thought the vehicle was stolen from California after processing the VIN number. When police knocked on the front door, the lights in the living room turned off. Another officer was on the side of the house and saw two men go into a room, come out of the room, and then open the back door. Police ordered the men to stay inside the house. Police followed the men inside the house and performed a protective sweep of the house, observing marijuana and cash. Officers also learned that only the license plates from the truck were stolen and that Mr. Ibarra-Raya was subleasing the house. Based on what the police saw during the protective sweep, police obtained a search warrant and later found cocaine, over $400,000 in plastic bags, and marijuana.

Police also found cocaine on Mr. Ibarra-Cisneros, but that issue is related to constructive possession and not search and seizure, so it is not discussed in detail here.

With regard to Mr. Ibarra-Raya, the Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, held that police may enter a building without a warrant when facing exigent circumstances under the “emergency exception” to the warrant requirement. In this case, police believed they were investigating noises coming from a vacant house and that there was no showing of immediate risk to health or safety to justify the emergency exception to the warrant requirement. The Court of Appeals ruled that all of the evidence gained as a result of the unlawful protective sweep should have been suppressed.