Security and the law: Responding to Alarm Not Grounds For Entry
The burglar alarm at the defendantâ€™s premises was activated and reported to the police by the defendantâ€™s neighbor. The police officer arrived approximately 15 minutes later.
While searching the upstairs area of the house, the officers saw a small door that led to an attic storage area. The officer opened the door and saw a large plastic bag that appeared to contain several smaller bags of marijuana.
The officers confiscated the bag of marijuana and then completed their search of the house. They found no evidence of burglary. They left a false alarm notice for the defendant indicating that they had been in the house and informing him why they were there.
The defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance. At the pretrial, he moved to suppress the evidence found in his home on the ground that it was obtained in the course of an illegal search.
The state argued, among other things, that the defendant consented to the search by implication, because he had a burglar alarm system and had contracted with an alarm company to attempt to notify the police when the alarm was activated.
The trial court rejected each of the stateâ€™s arguments.
The state appealed. The court, after a lengthy discussion of the facts, held that the trial court did not err in concluding that the warrantless search of the defendantâ€™s home was not a lawful search.
The court pointed out that there are three requirements for lawful administrative search. First, the search must be authorized by a politically accountable law-making body; second, it must be designed and systematically administered so that it involves no discretion by the officers conducting the search; and third, it must be reasonable in relation to its purpose.
A search of a private home for evidence of intrusion is in itself a dramatic intrusion into the privacy of the resident, the court maintained. That intrusion cannot be justified when viewed in light of the goal of the ordinance and the lack of a need for the intrusion to achieve it.
With reference to the argument that there is an implied consent to the search by installing an audible burglar alarm in the house, the court indicated that the person does not consent in advance to every entry by the police in response to an alarm.
Furthermore, the court pointed out that the police did not enter the house because they believed that they had the defendantâ€™s consent to do so. They entered because they were directed by a police department policy to determine if the alarm was a false alarm.
It should be pointed out that there were two dissents to the case, but the Appellate Court upheld the decision of the trial court.