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"Today's decision validates a legitimate police investigation. It affirms that Milwaukee police, after corroborating information from a citizen who told them that a man was selling drugs from his residence, were justified in entering the residence to prevent the destruction of evidence."
MADISON - The Wisconsin Supreme Court today affirmed the conviction of Terion Lamar Robinson for possession with intent to deliver tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). The court held that the warrantless entry by police into Robinson's residence was supported by probable cause and justified by exigent circumstances.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the court of appeals' decision: "Today's decision validates a legitimate police investigation. It affirms that Milwaukee police, after corroborating information from a citizen who told them that a man was selling drugs from his residence, were justified in entering the residence to prevent the destruction of evidence."
Milwaukee Police received a tip from an anonymous citizen at the police station, who said that Terion Robinson was selling marijuana from his apartment. The citizen told police Robinson's address and apartment number, and his cell phone number. Officers ran a warrant check which revealed two open warrants, one of which appeared to be for a felony drug possession or delivery case. Officers went to the residence, identified themselves, and verified that Robinson was inside. An officer told Robinson to open the door. Officers heard footsteps running from the door, so they kicked open the door. They smelled a strong odor of marijuana and observed marijuana in bags and on a table. Officers arrested Robinson, and found a large amount of currency and a cell phone on his person. They searched the residence and found digital scales and sandwich baggies.
Robinson moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the apartment, asserting that it was the fruit of an unlawful entry. The circuit court determined that what the officers believed to be a felony warrant was a commitment order for unpaid fines, stemming from Robinson's prior felony drug case.
However, the court denied Robinson's suppression motion, concluding that the officers acted in good faith reliance on the existence of a warrant. The court also concluded that the entry into Robinson's residence was supported by probable cause and exigent circumstances. Robinson subsequently pled guilty to possession of THC with intent to deliver.
The court of appeals affirmed Robinson's conviction, also concluding that the officers acted in good faith reliance on the existence of a warrant, and that the entry into the apartment was supported by probable cause and justified by exigent circumstances.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted Robinson's petition for review, and affirmed his conviction. The court affirmed without deciding that the commitment order for unpaid fines was not a warrant authorizing entry into the apartment. However, the court concluded that the entry was supported by probable cause and justified by exigent circumstances. The court determined that the officers verified three pieces of information from the citizenRobinson's name, his address, and his cell phone number. In addition, officers believed that Robinson was subject to a felony drug warrant, and therefore had been previously charged with illegal drug activity. Therefore, the court concluded, "it was reasonable for the officers to then believe, as the informant had alleged, that evidence of illegal drug activity would probably be found" in Robinson's apartment.
The court further concluded that the officers' entry was justified because they heard footsteps running from the door after they had identified themselves as police and told Robinson to open the door. The officers reasonably believed that Robinson would destroy evidence and were therefore justified in kicking in the door. The court rejected Robinson's argument that officers created the exigency by knocking on the door, concluding instead that "Robinson's choice to run from the door created the exigent circumstances that justified the officers' warrantless entry."
The court also concluded that once inside the apartment, officers lawfully seized evidence in plain view, and properly arrested Robinson for possession of the drugs they observed.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision in State v. Terion Lamar Robinson, No. 2008AP266-CR, appears at the Court's website: http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=52178
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office prosecuted Robinson in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Assistant Attorney General Michael Sanders represented the State of Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.