Statement by Municipal Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell, who on Thursday denied a defense motion to suppress evidence found by police who entered O.J. Simpson's estate without a search warrant. The transcript is from CNN-Journal Graphics.
First of all, before announcing the ruling with regard to the 1538.5 motion, I'd just like to say both attorneys, both sides in this case, did an excellent presentation--for which the court is grateful--and you both gave me quite a bit to think about during the last several hours.
The key issue for the court's determination is whether the warrantless entry into the property on Rockingham and the recovery of certain items of physical evidence was justified in light of exigent circumstances. And there's--this is really a gray area of the law. I mean, there's no set formula to establish when an exigent circumstance does exist and when it doesn't, and it's really something that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, based upon the evidence that's actually presented in the hearing.
There were numerous cases cited by the prosecution as well as by the defense. The court has reviewed all of those cases. The court also found an additional case that I did not see cited by either the prosecution or the defense, which--although not identical to the circumstances in this case--is more similar than most of the other cases, and that case is People v. Cain . . . a case decided in December of 1989.
In that particular matter, the situation was that there was a woman who had been beaten and raped in a certain apartment. The officers went to that location, observed her. Through the common wall, they could hear music coming from the next apartment over and could see that lights were on, and it was early in the morning.
The officers knocked on the door, received no answer and made a determination in their own minds that they felt that there could indeed be an additional victim in the adjacent apartment. The door was unlocked and they entered that apartment. They later found the defendant passed out on the floor intoxicated and recovered physical evidence including bloodstains and clothing that eventually tied that particular defendant to the crime for which he was later convicted.
The court upheld the warrantless entry into that apartment, and the language in that case the court finds particularly helpful in this particular matter. The court indicates that due weight must be given, not to the un-particularized suspicions or hunches of the police officers involved, but to the reasonable inference which he, or she, is entitled to withdraw from the facts in light of his or her experience.
Additionally, that court places a limitation, which other courts indeed have recognized . . . that the search involved must be strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation. Let's consider the evidence in this case--and basically, the evidence that was presented in this matter is for the most part un-controverted with regard to the search.
We know from the evidence that was presented that the detectives in this matter, Vannatter, Fuhrman, Lange and Phillips, I believe, started out at the crime scene on Bundy. They made the observations of the two dead bodies, the blood, the glove, the footprints and the droplets of blood leading away from that location. There's no dispute as to what they saw there at Bundy.
There's also no dispute that there were two small children who apparently were asleep inside that particular location at the time of the incident itself, and that those small children were taken to the police station. Notwithstanding suggestions to the contrary during cross-examination, the place for two small children whose mother has been murdered is not at the police station sitting in a corner drawing pictures on a tablet. The place for those kids is with their family.
The detectives testified that they were concerned about those children and wanted to make arrangements with regard to those children. The person who is the next of kin to those children is the defendant. He's their father. He's the person that logically would be the one that would be called upon to take action, to take custody of those children. So I don't find anything improper--in terms of the police conduct--with the idea that they are going to go to the Simpson home.
One might say, "Well, why didn't they just call?" Well, apparently they didn't have the phone number to the Simpson home. We learned that through the testimony--that they had to get Westec Security to come actually out to the location to try to get that phone number.
So they go to the Simpson home, which apparently is only some two miles away and a short car ride. They get to the gate, and here again it seems to me that they really do extraordinary things to try to make contact with the persons inside. I mean, the testimony was that they rang that bell for some 15 minutes to try to roust somebody from within the house. They could hear that phone ringing from out at the gate. There's no response.
But what do they see? And this apparently also is un-controverted in light of the testimony that was presented. There's a light on upstairs. There's a light on downstairs. There's several vehicles in the driveway--a suggestion that there are persons inside. But then there's more, and of course this is the crucial piece of evidence, but it by itself--without all of the other surrounding circumstances--would not be enough.
But what the officers say is--while they're shuffling around for this 15 minutes trying to get in touch with someone inside the house--is that they see blood, what they believe to be blood, on the door handle or near the door handle of this white Bronco, a white Bronco that is parked on a public street where the officers have a right to be. And the court sees no problem with the observing or recovery of the blood sample from the door of the Bronco.
So, seeing what they believed to be blood and having seen droplets of blood leading away from the location, the officers even now are doing more to get in touch with the people inside. They're calling the Westec Security who apparently dispatches at least one, if not two vehicles to the location and eventually give the police the telephone number.
What they get at that point is an answering machine. They feel--the testimony of both officers was that they felt that there was an emergency situation. The officers are cross-examined at length, both by Mr. Uelmen, (of) the initial officer, and by Mr. Shapiro, (of) Detective Vannatter. And both lawyers, defense lawyers in this case, did an excellent job on cross-examination.
But when one looks at the result of that cross-examination, basically there were really no holes put in either of those detectives' testimonies that they felt they were acting in an emergency situation at the time.
Again, I go back to that language in Cain. The search must be strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation. This would be a very easy decision for me if in fact these officers went in there like storm troopers, fanning out over the property, examining every leaf, every car, every closet, every nook and cranny of this location.
But the testimony as elicited by the officers, and as supported by the witnesses that testified on behalf of the defense, show that this was not what happened.
What the testimony was is that the officers went in search of persons on the property. They went to the guest quarters of Mr. Kaelin, woke him up. Now, someone might say, "Well, what are they doing looking at those tennis shoes?" Well, they didn't know what the situation was. They knew there were bloody footprints that led away from that location, and there was blood on this vehicle that somehow is tied in, or could be tied in, to that.
So they pick up the tennis shoes. There's no blood on those shoes, but they don't start searching under beds, searching drawers, they don't handcuff Mr. Kaelin. They don't do anything like that. Instead, what they do is, they asked him if there's other persons on the property. And where do they go? He directs them to Arnelle Simpson's quarters, apparently further down that pathway.
Now Arnelle Simpson testified the officers didn't ask her whether there was anyone hurt or injured or a suicide or something like that going on. But what did Arnelle Simpson tell us? She told us that while she was walking into that house taking a path to the front door and opening it with a key, the officers asked her about the live-in maid. Again, we have to judge the officers' conduct and the exigency if there was one, not based upon what all of us know today, but based upon what the officers knew at the time.
And the information that they had been provided by Westec Security was that there was a live-in maid at the location. Additionally, Westec Security advised them that they had not been informed that there was going to be a vacation or an absence of the residence from that location.
We know now, obviously, that there was no dying person or injured person on the property of the Simpson estate at that time. We know that all the persons who were supposed to be there were accounted for. Mr. Simpson was in Chicago. Mr. Kaelin was in his quarters. Ms. Arnelle Simpson had been out and returned about 1 o'clock in the morning and Gigi, the maid, was on her night off. But the officers didn't know that at the time.
So their immediate question--"Where's the maid?"--and a quick, sort of cursory look around the area of the maid's room once they get into the house again seems to be, was conduct that was strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justified its initiation, the language from that case.
Now what happened once the officers got into the house? What happened was they got on the telephone, they did exactly what they said they were there to do, which is to make arrangements for those children. Cathy Randa was called. Mr. Simpson was located and contacted in Chicago. Apparently Mr. Cowlings was contacted. Nicole Brown's parents were contacted. This is exactly what they said they were there to do, and that's what they did.
There's some suggestion, although I'm not sure that it's clear from the record, that at some point in time Arnelle Simpson apparently left the location in order to get the children, presumably leaving the police there at the scene, although that part of it is not clear to me. There's no indication at any point in time that the officers were told to leave, that they were not welcome there. Ms. Arnelle Simpson was apparently so upset, and justifiably so, by the circumstances of which she was informed, that she couldn't even talk on the phone and explain to those persons that she was calling what had happened.
And the only other thing really that went on while the officers were there at that time, at that portion of the testimony, was that they talked to Mr. Kaelin. "Did anything unusual happen around here last night?" And we know from Mr. Kaelin's testimony that there was a loud, jarring, banging on the wall of his guest quarters, one that scared him, that he didn't know the origin of, that he had mentioned to several other persons but had never really investigated himself.
So the officers have that information from Mr. Kaelin, and Detective Fuhrman walks down that path, he doesn't go anywhere else on the property. Officers make no attempt to go upstairs. They don't start opening cupboards, lifting up carpets, opening vehicles. He goes down that path to the area approximately adjacent to the air conditioner where that noise was seen and the picture jarred from the wall and finds a glove--a glove that appears to be the apparent mate to the glove found at the crime scene.
And at that point, he describes that he walked down toward the end of the path to see where it would lead, looking to see whether he would find a body there, and that's sort of what he expected to find according to his testimony. He then takes the other detectives one at a time to that location and shows them the glove as well.
Contrary to the suggestions in defense argument that this ruling allowing the officers' conduct, or finding that it was reasonable and there were exigent circumstances, would mean the end of the 4th Amendment and the Constitution and anarchy, I disagree. And I think one only needs to look as far as the fact that a short time after the glove was discovered, that the officers did in fact obtain a search warrant and apparently many other items of evidence were recovered, none of which are going to be offered during the course of this particular proceeding.
So in my mind, the 4th Amendment is alive and well. It is recognized. It's nothing new, nothing novel that I am coming up with here that there are exigent circumstances that on occasion justify a warrantless entry and a limited search. And this, it appears to the court, is what occurred in this particular case based upon, as I indicated, not only the testimony of the officers as to what their state of mind was, but the specific actions that they took which show, in fact, that indeed was their state of mind. And they are entitled to, and the court is entitled to, give weight to the experience of those officers in drawing their conclusions. And what we learned about those officers is that, I think, one had 19 or so years of experience and Vannatter over 25 years of experience in an elite homicide unit, and all of that can be taken into account.
The court finds that they were in fact acting for a benevolent purpose in light of the brutal attack and that they reasonably believed that a further delay could have resulted in the unnecessary loss of life. And therefore, the court denies the defense motion to suppress and will allow the introduction into evidence of the glove that was recovered and of the spattered blood spots that were located on the driveway once the sun came up, as well as the bloodstain from the Bronco which was in plain view on a public street.