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Name: People v. Chavez
Case #: C052924
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 04/17/2008

Observations by a police officer from a location that visitors normally could be expected to use do not violate a reasonable expectation of privacy within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Intrusion into an area in which one has a reasonable expectation of privacy is justified to protect life or avoid serious injury. Appellant’s girlfriend contacted police and requested assistance in recovering her car from appellant, with whom she and their seven-year-old child lived. She informed the officer that earlier that day, as she was leaving their residence for work, appellant, who was angry with her, took the car keys from her and drove her to work but then kept the car. She also stated that appellant had been violent in the past and that she had seen a gun in the residence six months earlier. The whereabouts of the child were unknown to the officer. After speaking to the girlfriend, the officer went to the residence at approximately 9:40 p.m. The car was parked in the driveway and the grill was warm to the touch. When no one responded to the officer’s knock on the front door and the ringing of the doorbell, he walked to the side of the house and, standing on his toes, peered over the six-foot fence into the side area. The gate to the fence was locked. The officer noticed something shiny on the ground inside the fence and shined his flashlight on the object, seeing what appeared to be a cocked revolver. He then jumped the fence and retrieved the revolver. The appellate court reversed the trial court order granting the motion to suppress, finding that the officer’s location outside the fence did not violate appellant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in regard to observations made there; the officer’s observation of the revolver was not a search as the gun was in plain sight; and that under exigent circumstances, the officer was justified in retrieving the gun to potentially preserve life or avoid serious injury.