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People v. Chung

June 3, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Robert P. O'Neill, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SA064964).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, P. J.


Keith Chung was charged by information with two counts of cruelty to an animal and possession of a controlled substance. (Pen. Code, § 597, subd. (a); Health & Saf. Code, § 11350, subd. (a).)*fn1 Prior to trial, Chung moved to suppress evidence seized during a search of his residence on the theory the police lacked exigent circumstances justifying warrantless entry.

The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion. Chung's neighbor, Jennifer Lee, testified she called the police in the early morning hours of July 13, 2007, and reported hearing the high pitched crying of a dog in pain in the unit above hers. Lee told the officers who responded to her call that she had heard similar sounds in the past, but this time it sounded more serious. The officers went to Chung's door but he said he did not own any dogs. While the officers spoke to Chung, one of them heard the faint sound of a dog whimpering inside Chung's condominium. Believing there was an animal in distress, the officers entered without a warrant after Chung refused the officers permission to enter.

The officers found an injured dog on the patio and a dead dog in the freezer section of the refrigerator. Both dogs had suffered head trauma. The live dog on the patio was euthanized by a veterinarian later that morning.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding it was reasonable under the circumstances for the officers to enter the condominium without first obtaining a warrant in order to aid a live animal the officers reasonably believed was in distress.

Chung thereafter pled no contest to one count of violating section 597, subdivision (a) and the remaining counts were dismissed. The trial court sentenced Chung to 16 months in state prison.

On appeal, Chung contends the trial court erroneously denied his motion to suppress evidence.*fn2 We conclude exigent circumstances permitted warrantless entry of Chung's residence to aid a live animal police officers reasonably believed was being abused in violation of section 597, subdivision (a). We therefore affirm the judgment.


1. Evidence Received at the Hearing on the Motion to Suppress

a. Testimony of the Citizen Informant

Jennifer Lee testified she lives in a Marina Del Rey condominium directly below Chung's unit. On July 13, 2007, Lee and her husband were awakened at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. by loud banging and the sound of a crying dog emanating from Chung's condominium. Lee heard "yelping, howling. It wasn't barking." The sound was "high pitched" and the animal seemed to be in pain. The sound progressively grew louder and continued for approximately 15 minutes. Lee had heard similar noises from Chung's condominium at least several times a week. On this occasion "it just sounded really bad."

Lee called 911 and two uniformed officers arrived. Lee recalled she told the officers she "heard an animal crying." Lee told the officers she "felt an animal was in danger" and probably stated she believed the animal was "being tortured." Lee testified she told the officers, "I heard loud noises [and] the dog seem[ed] to be in pain." Lee also probably told the officers she had heard similar noises in the past and had called animal control.*fn3

b. Testimony of One of the Police Officers Who Made the Warrantless Entry

Los Angeles Police Officer Peter Correa testified he and his partner received a report of animal cruelty and went to a condominium complex. Lee admitted the officers into the lobby of the building and told the officers she could hear loud stomping, yelling and the cries of a dog from the condominium above hers. She had previously heard similar sounds and called the police on this occasion "because it was especially loud."

Correa and his partner went to Chung's unit. Correa knocked on the door and announced himself as a police officer. Chung came to the door, "cracked the door open and poked his head out . . . ." When Correa advised Chung of the reason for his presence, Chung responded he did not own any dogs. Correa then engaged Chung in a conversation and asked Chung to step outside the condominium. Chung complied but left the front door open about an inch. While the officers continued to speak to Chung, Correa heard what he thought was the faint sound of a dog whimpering inside the condominium. Correa asked Chung for permission to enter the condominium. Chung denied the request, saying it was too messy inside.

Correa and his partner detained Chung in the hallway and handcuffed him. Correa's partner telephoned the watch commander to determine whether they had probable cause to enter the home. Correa testified he wanted to enter the condominium to check the safety of any animals within. Correa entered the condominium and saw it was in disarray. He immediately observed a glass pipe on the kitchen counter which appeared to contain the residue of some sort of illegal drug.

Correa began looking for any sign of a dog. In one of the bathrooms, Correa saw what appeared to be dog hair and blood on the floor and walls. There were also a couple of knives in the bathroom. Correa encountered a small dog lying on a towel on the patio in a plastic toolbox. It appeared to be injured and weak. It was not responsive but was still breathing. When other officers arrived, ...

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