Today, our focus is on exigent circumstances. Later we will outline what we mean by this term. In the meantime, take a minute to read through this sample oral board question and, before reading the explanation below, think through how you would act in this case study.
“You are called to the scene of a disturbance; a home dispute. Neighbors have called the local police department because they have heard shouting and objects appear to have been thrown or are falling. You arrive to the home, ring the doorbell, and a visibly angry man opens the door and quickly slams it in your face – citing reasons of privacy and that “YOU’VE NO BUSINESS ENTERING OUR HOME WITHOUT A WARRANT!”. You are on the verge of leaving when you hear further commotion, including cries for help.“
What do you do?”
Here, the theory behind the answer concerns the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Here, it very clearly states that searching homes for evidence can only be made once a warrant has been issued except if exigent circumstances exist.
What are “exigent circumstances”?
Exigent circumstances is where there is imminent threat to the life of another person; in which it is not possible to receive an official warrant because, by the time the warrant is issued, further harm or damage or even death, may have occurred. The word ‘exigent‘ itself means ‘pressing or demanding‘, referring to the pressing demand that these particular cases carry with them; in other words, the need to act, fast.
In the case of this oral board question, the police officer has a legitimate case of exigent circumstances to forcibly enter the home to ensure that the life of another person is not harmed.
“Given the cries for help, there is an imminent threat to life. Under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, police officers are obligated to forcibly enter homes if they believe a threat to life.
For this reason, I would forcibly enter the home to ensure that no further damage or threat to life takes place. Further back-up would also need to be called, as the situation inside the home may be dangerous even for one officer.”
It would be wrong to answer this question in the following way: “I would reason with the man to try and calm him down and open the door for further discussion”, or something that approximates to this answer.
The reason it is wrong is simply because of the threat to life. It changes the entire perspective on the situational question. The risk is too high to simply reason with the man and hope that the problem will evaporate once you have left the scene. In reality, the disturbance is likely to escalate in the coming hours. Therefore, as a police officer, you must act now – rather than to respond what might happen later, which may even be a fatality.
Again, this is another example or an oral board question where decisiveness comes in. The oral board panel is searching to see whether you can clearly and articulately ventilate a decisive action. After all, this is what the best leaders do all the time. Police, as community leaders in their own right, are no exception. No dither or delay, but a firm conviction that you know what to do under pressure and often challenging circumstances.
And by quoting the Fourth Amendment, you demonstrate to them that you have a very honest grasp of the US Constitution and the role that police officers play within this legal framework. That will impress the panel in ways that other answers fail to achieve. Of course, amendments are just one source of evidence. There are also recent cases you can cite, or perhaps new policies that your local police department have decided to deploy.
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