A report of a dog crying in distress can constitute an emergency that justifies police entering a home without a warrant, a state appeals court ruled Thursday in upholding a Los Angeles County man's conviction for animal cruelty.
In appealing Keith Chung's conviction and 16-month prison sentence, his lawyer argued that officers may disregard the normal requirement that they obtain a search warrant only if a human life is at stake.
But the Second District Court of Appeal said that although pets are considered personal property, protecting them is a legitimate government concern.
Police can conduct a search without a judge's approval "when an officer reasonably believes immediate warrantless entry into a residence is required to aid a live animal in distress," Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein said in the 3-0 ruling.
The court said a woman in Marina del Rey called police early one morning in July 2007 and said she and her husband had been awakened by the sound of a dog howling in apparent pain for about 15 minutes in Chung's condominium upstairs. She said she heard similar noises several times a week.
Police went to see Chung, who told them he didn't own any dogs. When an officer heard what sounded like a dog whimpering from inside, he handcuffed Chung and entered the condominium. There he found an injured dog lying on a towel in the patio and the body of another dog in the freezer, the court said.
After unsuccessfully challenging the search, Chung pleaded no contest to animal cruelty. In his appeal, his lawyer argued that police should have sought a warrant before entering because there were innocent explanations for the sounds reported by the neighbor, who was embroiled in another dispute with Chung over water damage to her unit.
Chung's lawyer, William Heyman, said he would appeal the ruling.
The ruling in People vs. Chung, B212210, can be read at links.sfgate.com/ZJUC.