In Luer v. Clinton, 987 F.3d 1160 (8th Cir. 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that officers’ nighttime entry into a residence’s backyard, the residence’s attached garage, and the residence itself—all in search of a suspect who failed to pay a cab fare—were justified by the “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. But the officers’ “extensive search” of the residence was held to be objectively unreasonable, depriving them of qualified immunity. With the U.S. Supreme Court taking up this term the parameters of any “community caretaking” exception to general Fourth Amendment requirements for home entries and searches, it is possible this precedent may be short-lived.
In the wee hours on morning in 2016, two police officers in St. Louis County, Missouri, responded to a call from a taxi driver whose inebriated passenger had left the taxi, claiming he was going to retrieve money to pay the $65 fare, and ran away into the suburban neighborhood. The taxi driver called police at 2:38 a.m., and the officers arrived less than 10 minutes later. The driver provided a description of the suspect and pointed in the direction he had fled. One officer went in that direction—between a house owned by the plaintiffs and a neighboring residence. The officer entered and searched the neighboring backyard. Finding no one, the officer entered the plaintiffs’ backyard. While walking on the side of plaintiffs’ house, the officer saw that a service door to the garage (not visible from the street) was “not fully secured.”