The California Supreme Court has just decided to “let sleeping dogs lie” and decline further review of a California Court of Appeals decision in People v. Chung, which extended the “exigent circumstances” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement to animals in distress. This is a major victory for combatting animal abuse and neglect! This move came in light of the Court’s recent decision in People v. Troyer, concluding that the police could invoke exigent circumstances to search a bedroom while looking for potential victims and suspects in a shooting incident.
The Court put the Chung case on hold pending Troyer. Now that Troyer has been resolved and upheld the police officers’ actions under seemingly fuzzier facts, the Supreme Court of California was free to decide that no further appellate review was necessary in Chung. This decision keeps in place the Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the police officers’ actions in Chung to investigate a call of a dog in severe distress and enter Chung’s residence, despite not having a warrant.
Although I would have liked to have seen how the California Supreme Court would have handled the legal status of companion animals, the Court of Appeals decision had decent analysis on this point. For instance, Chung argued that exigent circumstances should be limited to protecting human life and should not extend to protection of an animal. The Court of Appeals could have rested its decision on the fact that dogs are property and that California law allows for exigent circumstances to prevent damage to property. Instead, the court noted that that animal protection has long been a proper government concern, pointing to the fact that California’s animal cruelty statute dated back to 1872. The Court of Appeals also discussed (albeit in a footnote) that doges have long held a special place in our lives, serving as our companions, aiding the disabled, and functioning as police, military, search and rescue and therapy dogs.
I will keep watching to see if this case is appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and will keep you posted!