ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA.
In this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the validity of a warrantless "murder scene" search of petitioner's home. Because this holding is in direct conflict with our opinion in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), we reverse.
The Louisiana Supreme Court states the facts as follows:
"On May 18, 1982, several deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department arrived at [petitioner's] home in response to a report by the [petitioner's] daughter of a homicide. The deputies entered the house, made a cursory search and discovered [petitioner's] husband dead of a gunshot wound in a bedroom and the [petitioner] lying unconscious in another bedroom due to an apparent drug overdose. According to the [petitioner's] daughter, the [petitioner] had shot her husband, then ingested a quantity of pills in a suicide attempt, and then, changing her mind, called her daughter, informed her of the situation and requested help. The daughter then contacted the police. Upon their arrival, the daughter admitted them into the house and directed them to the rooms containing the [petitioner] and the victim. The deputies immediately transported the then unconscious [petitioner] to a hospital and secured the scene. Thirty-five minutes later two members of the homicide unit of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office arrived and conducted a follow-up investigation of the homicide and attempted suicide.
"The homicide investigators entered the residence and commenced what they described at the motion to suppress hearing as a 'general exploratory search for evidence of a crime.' During their search, which lasted
approximately two hours, the detectives examined each room of the house." 448 So. 2d 666, 668 (1984).
Petitioner was subsequently indicted for the second-degree murder of her husband. She moved to suppress three items of evidence discovered during the search, including a pistol found inside a chest of drawers in the same room as the deceased's body, a torn up note found in a wastepaper basket in an adjoining bathroom, and another letter (alleged to be a suicide note) found folded up inside an envelope containing a Christmas card on the top of a chest of drawers. All of this evidence was found in the "general exploratory search for evidence" conducted by two homicide investigators who arrived at the scene approximately 35 minutes after petitioner was sent to the hospital. See ibid. By the time those investigators arrived, the officers who originally arrived at the scene had already searched the premises for other victims or suspects. See Mincey, supra, at 392. The investigators testified that they had time to secure a warrant before commencing the search, see 448 So. 2d, at 668, and that no one had given consent to the search, see App. C to Pet. for Cert. 7-8, 16, 19-20 (transcript of testimony of Detectives Zinna and Masson at suppression hearing).
The trial court originally denied petitioner's motion to suppress. However, the trial court then granted petitioner's motion for reconsideration and partially reversed its former decision, holding that the gun and the suicide letter found in the Christmas card were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment and therefore must be suppressed. The Louisiana Court of Appeal denied the State's application for a writ of review. A sharply divided Louisiana Supreme Court subsequently held all of the evidence seized to be admissible.
As we stated in United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 9 (1977), "in this area we do not write on a clean slate." In a long line of cases, ...