An action was filed by the plaintiff against the State Department of Environmental Management and several of its officers after the officers seized a raccoon.
The plaintiff filed the action against the state of Rhode Island and against various representatives of the Department of Environmental Management claiming that the defendants violated her right to privacy, violated her due process rights and perpetuated an unreasonable search, all in contravention of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and the general laws of the state of Rhode Island. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendants intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress upon her, that the defendants committed the tort of conversion, that the defendants committed assault and battery upon her and that the defendants were further guilty of malicious prosecution and false arrest.
You ask, what has this to do with security?
Well, the raccoon was raised by the plaintiff for a period of seven years as a family pet. The raccoon lived unremarkably for the seven years in a wire cage attached to the back of the plaintiff’s house. That ended when the raccoon was seized by officers of the Department of Environmental Management. The officers had been called to the house after a police officer responded to a silent security alarm and saw the caged raccoon. They indicated to the plaintiff that they were going to seize the raccoon because an epidemic of rabies was then threatening Rhode Island. The plaintiff objected and claimed that the officers assaulted her and were excessively rough with the pet that she loved. She also claimed that the officers promised to keep the raccoon alive but the Department of Environmental Management instead summarily euthanized the raccoon and found that the raccoon was not infected by the rabies virus.
The court, in responding to defendants’ motion for summary judgment ruled that the case turns on a security alarm and a state license use. The court indicated that the plaintiff had the security alarm, but not the license, pointing out that the silent alarm brought the police officer to the plaintiff’s home. The officer was justified in entering the back yard in response to the silent security alarm. The officer was checking the house for signs of a burglary when he saw both the raccoon and its cage.
Therefore, the search was legal, and the subsequent searches by the animal control officer and the DEM officers were incidental to the original search. The court stated that law enforcement agents may seize evidence in plain view during a lawful search, even though the items seized are not included within the scope of the warrant. To fall within the “plain view” doctrine, a seizure must satisfy two criterion: First, the officers’ presence at the point of discovery must be lawful, and second, the item’s evidentiary value must be immediately apparent to the searchers.
The court further pointed out that a state license is necessary to keep a raccoon for breeding or any other purpose. Because the plaintiff did not have a license, the raccoon was contraband. Although the raccoon was undoubtedly a cherished pet, she was not property under the law of Rhode Island, therefore the plaintiff had no property interest in the raccoon and the raccoon seizure and death were not protected by the Fourth, Fifth or 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
The moral of the story: If you install an alarm system and it works, the police may have a right to legally search the premise and if you intend to keep a raccoon as a pet (or any other contraband), make sure you obtain a license. (Or hide it better!)