Court OKs Warrantless Search for Animal

Posted July 6, 2010 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

A California court has approved a police officer’s warrantless entry into an apartment to search for a distressed dog. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the court affirmed the animal cruelty conviction of Keith Chung. Chung’s lawyer claimed the officer’s entry into the apartment without a search warrant tainted the conviction.

  • Constitution requires search warrant in most cases
  • Exceptions apply, especially if life threatened
  • Court extends exceptions to include threatened animals


Protecting Pets a Legitimate Government Concern

The officer responded to a complaint from Chung’s neighbor. She said she heard a dog howling in pain in Chung’s apartment. When questioned at his door, Chung denied having a dog. The officer heard a dog whimpering inside, handcuffed Chung, and entered the apartment. He found an injured dog, and the body of another dog in Chung’s freezer.

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment bans warrantless searches. Over the years the Supreme Court has recognized several circumstances in which police may conduct a search without a warrant. An officer may enter a home legally if facts reasonably show human life depends on it.

The California court extended this rule to the lives of animals. The presiding justice said that an officer may enter a home without a warrant based on a reasonable belief this is necessary to help an animal in distress. The other two judges on the court agreed. Chung’s lawyer argued the exception applies only to human life. He says Chung will appeal the ruling.

Most states have criminal laws against animal cruelty. For how to respond to suspected cruelty cases, read What To Do If You Witness Animal Abuse.

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