Court Rules Police Were Justified In Warrantless Search Of Suicidal Woman’s Home

Milwaukee Woman Claimed Search Of Her Home Violated Fourth Amendment Rights


A federal appeals court ruling this week raises questions about the right of police to search someone’s house if they fear the person may commit suicide.

The ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found police were justified in detaining Krysta Sutterfield and searching her Milwaukee home without a warrant. The March 2011 incident occurred after Sutterfield’s doctor told police that she had talked to him about shooting herself.

Despite the ruling in favor of the police in this case, Judge Daniel Manion urged state legislatures to create a civil warrant process requiring police to ask a judge for permission to search someone’s house in such a situation. State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, led a legislative council committee last year that considered changes to the state law that grants police the power to detain someone who may be suicidal. She says the committee didn’t consider such a warrant process, but she says maybe now it’s time to.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“If it’s coming to attention and if it’s something that serves the greater good, then it would seem to me if that provides more protection and dignity for the victim, for law enforcement, that’s maybe something we should be exploring,” said Lazich.

Sutterfield’s attorney John Monroe says that because there was no warrant issued in this case, the police search was not justified.

“The fact that the state of Wisconsin hasn’t created a warrant to address this particular situation can’t undo the warrant requirements that the Fourth Amendment contains,” said Monroe. “If there is no option for the police to get a warrant in that circumstance, then it seems to me the result ought to be then they can’t take action.”

Monroe says he is considering appealing the ruling.