The “Emergency Aid” Exception to the Warrant Requirement


The "Emergency Aid Doctrine" is a subcategory of the “Community Caretaker” exception. People v. Ray (1999) 21 Cal.4th 464, 471.

In People v. Poulson (1998) 69 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, the officer did not observe the suspect driving, but came upon an accident scene and observed fresh blood in the vehicle, on the front porch of the registered owner’s home, and on the face of the defendant’s wife who they could see through the window. Although the defendant’s wife told the officer she was not in need of medical assistance, forcible entry into the home was deemed legal based on the officer’s “reasonable belief” that a person might be in need of medical assistance.

Even if the officer’s subjective purpose for entry into a dwelling is to investigate and arrest one or more suspects, the entry will be deemed constitutional if there objectively appears to be a need for medical assistance or to protect an occupant from imminent injury, Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart (2006) 547 U.S. 1017. However, in Ray, supra, the California Supreme Court noted that the community caretaker exception is “narrowly delimited” and that the “privilege to enter to render aid does not, of course, justify a search of the premises for other purposes.” Ray, at 477.

The Court went on to say that “courts must be especially vigilant in guarding against subterfuge” and that “any intention of engaging in crime-solving activities will defeat the community caretaker exception even in cases of mixed motives. Id.


In People v. Madrid (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1050 which suggests, (but refused to hold), that Ray did not survive Brigham City v. Stuart (2006) 547 U.S. 398, at least as far as it pertains to rendering emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury because the United States Supreme Court in Bighan City specifically rejected the contention that a search justified under the Emergency Aid Doctrine could not be primarily motivated by the desire to arrest and seize evidence, and placed “emergency aid” under “exigent circumstances” rather than the “community caretaker” exception.

People v. Troyer (2011) 51 Cal.4th 599, a more recent case, took the “emergency aid” exception even further, upholding police forced entry into a locked bedroom of an empty house at the scene of a shooting, where the victims advised the police officers that the shooters had fled the scene and refused police request for consent to search the house.