Ropes & Gray Amicus Brief Supports Supreme Judicial Court’s Extension of Emergency-Aid Exception to Fourth Amendment's Warrant Requirement to Animals

In The News
April 11, 2014
Virginia F. Coleman

On April 11, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Duncan (No. SJC-11373) answered in the affirmative a lower court's reported question whether the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and art. 14 of the Mass. Declaration of Rights extends to the assistance of animals. In addressing this question of first impression in Massachusetts, the SJC joined a number of jurisdictions that have considered the issue in holding that, in appropriate circumstances, animals should be afforded the protection of the emergency-aid exception. Ropes & Gray filed an amicus brief for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, joined by the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the National District Attorneys Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, in support of the Commonwealth’s position in favor of the exception’s application to animals.

In Duncan, after receiving a telephone call from the defendant’s neighbor, police entered the defendant’s yard without a warrant and seized three dogs that had been left outside in severe winter weather. Two of the dogs appeared frozen to death, and one was severely emaciated. The defendant was charged with three counts of animal cruelty, and subsequently moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search. In granting the defendant’s motion to suppress, the trial judge reported the question of law to the SJC as one of first impression.

The brief submitted by Ropes & Gray highlighted for the SJC the Commonwealth’s strong legislative history in favor of the humane treatment of animals. The brief also set forth a number of factors for the court to consider in determining the circumstances under which the warrantless rescue of an animal would be justified, such as whether the animal’s condition was caused by human abuse or neglect. Notably, the SJC’s reasoning closely tracked the arguments made in Ropes & Gray’s brief, specifically incorporating into its decision some of the factual and policy-based considerations mentioned above.

Retired partner Virginia Coleman authored the brief.


Virginia F. Coleman
Virginia F. Coleman
Retired Partner