In the instant case, defendant Panah was convicted in the trial court of murder and he was sentenced to death. His case is now before us on appeal because of the rule on automatic appeal in case of verdicts of death penalty.
In this case, an eight-year-old girl named Nicole Parker was visiting his father, Edward Parker in Woodland Hills. At 11:00 in the morning of the said date, Nicole asked her father for a softball and glove and went outside the apartment complex of his father to play. Forty-five minutes after, Edward looked for Nicole but she is nowhere to be found. Thus, Edward looked for his daughter within the apartment complex to no avail.
Edward Parker’s failure to find Nicole prompted him to call the police. Defendant Panah, the resident of apartment #122, talked to Edward and found out that the latter was looking for his missing daughter. When the police arrived, the defendant insisted that Edward come with him to Ventura Boulevard to look for Nicole, but Edward refused.
Thereafter, one of the police was informed that Nicole was last seen talking to a man in his 20s who was living in apartment #122. Thus, the said policeman asked for the key to the said room from the manager and searched the apartment complex for Nicole but did not find her. Hours later, the detectives were informed that the defendant attempted to commit suicide and told a friend that he did something really bad that is in connection with the missing child. This friend told the police, which new information prompted the latter to conduct another warrantless search of apartment #122, wherein they found Nicole’s dead body wrapped in a bed sheet and stuffed inside a suitcase.
The defendant was charged with murder, and he raised issues as to the illegality of the warrantless searches in his pre-trial motions. However, the trial judge ruled that the warrantless searches were valid, and the defendant was convicted.
In this appeal, the defendant again raises the same issues, arguing that the warrantless search conducted in his apartment unit was a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment, and that there were no exigent circumstances warranting a warrantless search.
Under this jurisdiction, we uphold the right of citizens to be secure in their houses and effects. This security is embodied in the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution and is guaranteed by the rule that searches should be reasonable and supported by a warrant based on a finding of probable cause.
The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’”
Thus, it is clear that as a general rule, a search warrant must be secured by police officers before barging in another man’s home and searching it for effects. However, this general rule admits of certain exceptions.
The case of McDonald v. United States, decided in 1948 (355 U.S. 451, 93 L. Ed 15), explained that emergency situations that serve as compelling reasons may justify the absence of a search warrant.
While this case decided in favor of the defendant and emphasized his right to be secure in his house and effects, it provides authority for the other position, that is, that given reasonable justification, the requirement of a search warrant may be dispensed with. However, care must be taken so that it is certain that exigent circumstances do exist to justify a warrantless search. After all, it is a fundamental right of all persons to be secure in their houses and effects, and trivial suspicions and the lack of adequate justification should not be an exception to Fourth Amendment rights.
In Kirk v. Louisiana (536 U.S. 635), promulgated in 2002, the Supreme Court again ruled that the police’s conduct of warrantless search was illegal, because they did not find exigent circumstances to justify the absence of a warrant. It should be noted that the court only struck down the validity of the search because there was no exigent circumstances to justify the warrantless search. Nexus.
These cases are authority to serve as the exact opposite of the case at bar. Here there is clearly an exigent and emergency situation. A child had gone missing, and the police did not know whether the girl was dead or alive. Time was of the essence, and the police had to make an immediate decision as to whether to conduct a search, if they were to save the life of the girl. Thus, in this situation, there is clearly an exigent circumstance justifying a warrantless search, because the life of a young girl is on the line. Moreover, probable cause exists, since even prior to the statement of the defendant’s friend regarding his confession, the police were able to gather information from other people that the victim was last seen talking to the defendant.
Thus, since there was probable cause and exigent circumstances, this case clearly falls within the recognized exceptions to the Fourth Amendment, and the right of the defendant to be secure in his house and effects was not violated.
Hence, the evidence derived from such warrantless search is admissible in evidence against him, and could form the basis of his conviction. The decision of the lower court is thus, affirmed.