Thompson v. Louisiana
Annotate this Case
469 U.S. 17 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Thompson v. Louisiana, 469 U.S. 17 (1984)
Thompson v. Louisiana
Decided November 26, 1984
469 U.S. 17
Prior to her Louisiana state court trial, petitioner, who was charged with the second-degree murder of her husband, moved to suppress certain evidence discovered during the search of her home, including a pistol found inside a chest of drawers and a suicide note found inside an envelope containing a Christmas card on the top of a chest of drawers. The search was conducted by several officers responding to a homicide report made by petitioner's daughter. According to petitioner's daughter, petitioner had shot her husband, taken pills in a suicide attempt, and then, changing her mind, had called her daughter, informed her of the situation, and requested help. When officers arrived at petitioner's home, the daughter admitted them and directed them to the rooms containing the petitioner and the victim. The officers transported the petitioner to the hospital and secured the scene. Thirty-five minutes later, officers from the Sheriff's Office homicide unit arrived at the house and, without first obtaining a warrant, conducted a 2-hour "general exploratory" search of the entire house, during which the items in question were found. The trial court held that the pistol and suicide note were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment and therefore must be suppressed. The Louisiana Court of Appeal denied the State's application for review, but the Louisiana Supreme Court subsequently held that all of the evidence seized was admissible.
Held: Although the homicide investigators may have had probable cause to search the premises, for the search to be valid, it must fall within one of the narrow and specifically delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U. S. 385, rejected the contention that one of the exceptions to the Warrant Clause is a "murder scene exception." The 2-hour general search was a significant intrusion on petitioner's privacy and therefore could only be conducted subject to the constraints -- including the warrant requirement -- of the Fourth Amendment. Nor did petitioner's attempt to get medical assistance evidence a diminished expectation of privacy in her home so as to legitimate the warrantless search. Moreover, the evidence at issue was not discovered in plain view while the police were assisting petitioner to the hospital, nor was it discovered during the
"victim-or-suspect" search that had been completed by the time the investigators arrived.
Certiorari granted; 448 So.2d 666, reversed and remanded.