exigency warrantless searches

Recognizing When an Exigency Ends, and a Further Search Requires a Warrant

Over a number of cases we have looked at, the incident has started with officers entering a home without a search warrant. In several cases, officers were faced with exigent circumstances – a hostage situation or other emergency situation that required immediate action. In other cases, officers entered the home to serve an arrest warrant. In all of these cases, we stressed the importance of officers recognizing when the emergency or exigency ended, and a further search required a search warrant.

United States v Sallis1 is an excellent example of officers working through an initial entry based on exigency, a search based on consent and, ultimately, execution of a search warrant. Let’s take a look at the facts in this case – United States v Sallis – and see how the various elements of the search came together with a positive result.


In November 2016, Waterloo, Iowa officers were notified that a shooting victim had walked into the hospital suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The patient, along with other witnesses, identified Eric Sallis as the shooter. Officers executed a search warrant at Eric Sallis’ apartment and found a 9mm bullet, a 9mm shell casing, as well as blood spatter evidence. However, Sallis was not home at the time and police did not recover a firearm. Based on outstanding warrants and Sallis’ apparent involvement in the shooting, officers began looking for Sallis and learned from a confidential informant that he was staying at a relative’s apartment.

Officers set up surveillance on the apartment and observed Sallis entering a vehicle and making several apparent narcotics transactions. When Sallis came out a second time and got into a vehicle, officers approached the car and arrested him on his outstanding warrants. Officers also uncovered a cell phone, ¼ pound of marijuana, and $1,500.00 in cash. Sallis would not identify the apartment he came from and denied living there and said the resident who lived there was on her way back. Upon request, Sallis gave the officers the phone number of the woman who lived in the apartment, but when she answered, she quickly hung up. While officers applied for a search warrant, the sergeant decided to secure the apartment and check on the children who were present. Officers placed Sallis in a police car and advised him of his constitutional rights.

Officers went to the apartment and observed several children in the apartment under the age of 5. There was no adult present in the apartment. Officers entered the apartment, confirmed no adults were present and secured the apartment until officers could find an adult. Meanwhile, a female came back to the apartment and officers told her that Sallis had been arrested and that they had applied for a search warrant.

Officers asked the female for consent to search her apartment and she asked to speak to Sallis first to discuss the matter. Sallis directed her to get his bag and give it to the officers. While officers sat in the living room waiting for the warrant to be signed, the female resident retrieved a bag and gave it to the officers. The bag contained packaged marijuana and Sallis’ clothes. This information was also added to the affidavit for the search warrant.

Once the search warrant was issued, officers searched the apartment and found additional marijuana as well as the 9mm handgun and ammunition. In the meantime, Sallis had been brought to the station and when confronted with the handgun information, he made incriminating statements concerning the shooting.

Sallis was convicted in federal district court where his motion to suppress the firearm and other evidence was denied.

Eighth Circuit Findings

Sallis argues that the information supporting the search warrant was tainted by the officers’ initial improper entry into the apartment. Sallis claims that the circumstances known to the officers at the time they first discovered the children alone in the apartment did not meet the criteria required to support an emergency. The court concluded that whether the initial entry was constitutionally permissible was irrelevant because none of the facts learned during the initial entry were included in the search warrant affidavit.

Sallis next claimed that the search was invalid because he did not consent to the search and seizure of the bag given to the officers by the resident. The court disagreed, citing the following factors as support for the government’s claim that consent was freely given:

  • The officers’ BWC video footage recorded the conversation between Sallis, the officers, and the resident;
  • Sallis instructed the resident to get his back and give it to the officers,
  • Sallis told the officers “I’ll give it to you”;
  • Sallis had been given his Miranda warnings – recorded on the BWC footage; and
  • While Sallis was in custody at the time, his consent was still given voluntarily.

The court also ruled that even if the so-called “tainted evidence” was removed from the warrant officers would still have had probable cause to support the issuance of the warrant.


Another good case for the officers and it is important to note how the supervisor, in this case, was smart to allow two parallel processes to work simultaneously. On the one hand, there was one team of officers working with Sallis – stopping the car, securing Sallis, and ultimately bringing him to the station. Meanwhile, a team of officers was working the apartment angle, understanding from the informant that there would be children and a female relative staying at the apartment. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there was a third team of investigators collecting the information from the first two teams and putting all the pieces in place to apply for the search warrant.

The search warrant is the key to collecting the most important evidence – the gun. Certainly, the officers could not have searched the apartment based on the children left alone. That emergency ends at the point the children are accounted for and are waiting for Children Services. Nor does Sallis’ consent allow officers to search since his consent only applies to the bag retrieved by the resident.

1United States v. Sallis, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 10408 (8th Cir. IA April 9, 2019)