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Oregon Supreme Court Rules Warrantless Entry Into Home in Effort to Obtain Nonconsensual BAC Evidence Not Exigent Circumstance

by Mark Wilson

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that warrantless entry into a home to obtain nonconsensual blood-alcohol concentration (“BAC”) evidence did not amount to an exigent circumstance that could justify the warrantless home entry.

At 10:15 p.m., on October 11, 2011, police were dispatched to a single-vehicle crash near a trailer where Randall Ritz resided with his girlfriend, Wilson-McCullough. Officers arrived just after 10:30 p.m. and found a disabled truck in a ditch next to Ritz’s driveway. His girlfriend told officers that he had been drinking earlier and had been driving the truck. A neighbor told police that Ritz had been driving the truck erratically and appeared intoxicated a short time earlier.

Police were unable to locate Ritz. However, when an officer returned about an hour later, he spotted him on the trailer’s porch. Ritz went inside when he saw the officer. The officer called for backup. Ritz refused to exit his home, so an officer crawled through an open window and unlocked the front door. Several officers entered, and Ritz was arrested.

Ritz was charged with the misdemeanor offense of driving under the influence of intoxicants. He moved to suppress all evidence obtained after police entered his residence without a warrant, which included incriminating statements and the results of a breath test. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that exigent circumstances provided “a valid basis for entry into the trailer without a warrant.” The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the natural dissipation of alcohol in Ritz’s body justified the warrantless entry into his home.

The Oregon Supreme Court distinguished between the warrantless entry into Ritz’s home and the sought-after blood draw to measure his BAC. The Court observed that the officers needed a warrant to obtain Ritz’s BAC evidence, unless he consented, which was unlikely in light of his behavior that evening. The Court noted that there was no reason for the officers to believe that obtaining a warrant to enter Ritz’s home would delay obtaining the BAC evidence, because they needed a warrant for that as well.

Since a warrant was needed for both the nonconsensual entry into Ritz’s home as well as the nonconsensual obtaining of BAC evidence, the Court concluded that “it is not clear how requiring the officers to obtain a warrant to enter the home … was likely to delay preserving defendant’s BAC evidence.” Accordingly, the State “failed to establish that the officers reasonably believed that they were faced with an exigency” when they entered Ritz’s home without a warrant or his consent.

The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further consideration. See: State v. Ritz, 361 Ore. 781 (2017).  

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