La Mesa resident prevails in illegal search case (Sam Spital)

Commentary by San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Sam Spital:

“The North County News on December 25, 2012 published this article regarding a three Judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for the 9th Circuit that held a police officer cannot gain entrance to a person’s property or home in pursuit of a possible misdemeanor suspect without first obtaining permission or obtaining a search warrant. To do otherwise, the panel of the Court ruled is a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits unlawful searches and seizures. The historical exceptions in the law allow the police to enter private property when in ‘hot pursuit’ of a fleeing suspect believed to have just committed a serious felony, the possible destruction of evidence and/or when the police or the public are in imminent danger.

The underlying facts are that the La Mesa Police were called because of a fight on a neighborhood street in this community that is adjacent to the City of San Diego. However, when the police arrived, there was no fight in progress and three individuals were walking away in the opposite direction of the police. An officer yelled ‘Police’ but one of the individuals did not stop and walked inside a gated fence surrounding a nearby home. The officer reportedly kicked in the gate and it struck a woman who was standing on the inside. The force knocked her to the ground and she sustained a concussion, was unconscious and then taken by ambulance to a local hospital for surgery. She sued the officer and the City of La Mesa for $500,000, but the case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court. When the particular suspect was caught he did not possess any weapons and there reportedly was not sufficient evidence a crime had taken place or was ongoing. Accordingly, the panel of the Court held there was no imminent danger to the officer or anyone else and, therefore, ordered the case be reinstated. The next step is for the full 9th Circuit Court to review the matter and if that produces an unsatisfactory opinion the case can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; otherwise, it will be sent back for a trial on the merits.”

–Sam Spital