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Name: People v. Ovieda
Case #: S247235
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/12/2019

Opinion by Justice Corrigan (unanimous decision).

The community caretaking exception, asserted in the absence of exigency, is not one of the carefully delineated exceptions to the residential warrant requirement. Officers were dispatched to Ovieda’s home after his family reported he was inside the house where he had access to guns and was threatening suicide. A family friend, Case, exited Ovieda’s house and told police that Ovieda had been disarmed. Two other friends, along with Ovieda, then exited the house. Officers searched and handcuffed Ovieda, then conducted a protective sweep of the residence. Inside, they saw evidence of illegal drug activity, along with illegal weapons. Without a warrant, police removed drugs and guns from the house and arrested Ovieda. After his motion to suppress was denied, he pleaded guilty to drug and weapon offenses. He appealed the denial of his suppression motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed based on the community caretaking exception to the residential warrant requirement. The California Supreme granted review. Held: Reversed. Residential searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The lead opinion in People v. Ray (1999) 21 Cal.4th 464, articulated a nonemergency community caretaking exception permitting residential entry. This was error and the court disapproved Ray. Under U.S. Supreme Court authority, a warrantless home entry is unreasonable unless it falls within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, like exigent circumstances. The high court has never applied the concept of a community caretaking search outside the context of an automobile inventory and has repeatedly recognized the different levels of constitutional protection afforded vehicles and homes. Here the officers may well have acted with the best of intentions, but they lacked objective facts creating a reasonable suspicion that exigent circumstances justified a warrantless entry into Ovieda’s home. The search was unconstitutional.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: