Thursday, January 8, 1998

US Supreme Court New York v. Belton 80-328

Decided July 1, 1981.

   This case had already been overturned when I started this website, but I'm including it because it's referred to so often in other cases that I've added, so I thought it'd be worth reading.

   An officer stopped a car for speeding, found that none of the four occupants owned the car, and smelled burnt marijuana from inside the car.  He noticed an envelope in the car that said "supergold," which he associated with marijuana (different world in the 80's huh?).  He ordered all four occupants out of the car and arrested them for possession of marijuana.

   He searched the car incident to arrest, found that the envelope did in fact contain marijuana, and found a jacket belonging to Belton (one of the passengers), which had cocaine in the pocket.  He took all four occupants to jail.  Belton took a plea bargain after the court refused to suppress the cocaine, but he reserved the right to appeal that judgment.  And appeal he did.

   So here's where it really gets funny.  Before ruling that an officer could search the entire passenger compartment after the arrest of a recent occupant of the car (holding that the passenger compartment was under the control of any given occupant), this is what they said: "Fourth Amendment doctrine, given force and effect by the exclusionary rule, is primarily intended to regulate the police in their day-to-day activities and thus ought to be expressed in terms that are readily applicable by the police in the context of the law enforcement activities in which they are necessarily engaged. A highly sophisticated set of rules, qualified by all sorts of ifs, ands, and buts and requiring the drawing of subtle nuances and hairline distinctions, may be the sort of heady stuff upon which the facile minds of lawyers and judges eagerly feed, but they may be `literally impossible of application by the officer in the field....[a] single familiar standard is essential to guide police officers, who have only limited time and expertise to reflect on and balance the social and individual interests involved in the specific circumstances they confront." (emphasis added)

   In other words, we had the Belton bright-line rule because the Supreme Court of the early 80's figured that cops were too dumb to deal with anything more complicated!  Now, I'm all about keeping things as simple as possible (even though that often isn't very simple at all), but this just made me laugh.

   It seems that court has stepped up its expectations of public servants somewhat.

Tuesday, January 6, 1998

US Supreme Court Michigan v. Summers 79-1794

Decided June 22, 1981

   Police obtained a warrant to search Summers' home.  When they arrived, they found that he was just leaving.  He was detained, brought back into the house, and the search of the premises was conducted.  After incriminating evidence was found, Summers was arrested.  During a search incident to arrest, an envelope containing heroin was found in his pocket.  Summers was charged with possession of the heroin found on his person, but the court suppressed the evidence after finding that Summers' initial detention was unreasonable.  The prosecution appealed.

   The US Supreme Court reasoned that a search warrant is a finding by a detached magistrate that there is probable cause to believe that incriminating evidence will be found in a particular place, and that this sort of finding confers suspicion on the occupants of that same place.  This means that the police have the authority to detain people found on the premises where they execute a search warrant, which means that Summers' detention was reasonable.  The suppression was reversed.

Sunday, January 4, 1998

US Supreme Court Steagald v. US 79-6777

Decision here.

   The facts: Lyons had a warrant for his arrest.  DEA agents received an anonymous tip which led them to Steagald's house.  They spent a couple of days planning the raid, but they didn't get a search warrant because they expected Lyons' arrest warrant to justify entry into the house.  Agents went to Steagald's house, gunpointed everybody and searched for Lyons.  They didn't find him, but they found cocaine.  They searched again while applying for a warrant, and found more evidence.  When the warrant was issued, they searched a third time and found a lot of cocaine.  Lyons wasn't found, as has no further relevance to this case.  Steagald was convicted of federal drug offenses, and appealed his conviction on the grounds that the entry and search of his house violated the fourth amendment.

   In Payton, the court had held that an arrest warrant allows the police to make entry into the defendant's home in order to arrest him, when there is reason to believe that he is within.  When an arrest warrant has been obtained, the defendant's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is already protected by involving the detached scrutiny of a judicial officer.  But that's when the defendant is arrested in his own home.  In this case, the court pointed out that a warrant for Lyons' arrest did nothing to protect Steagald from unreasonable search and seizure.  The court compared using an arrest warrant to justify a search of someone else's house to the writs of assistance which the Fourth Amendment was originally designed to prevent.  In order to render the search reasonable in the instant case, the agents would have had to obtain a search warrant for Steagald's house.

   This decision doesn't diminish police authority to make entry where there are exigent circumstances, or to make arrests in a public place.

Friday, January 2, 1998

Colorado Supreme Court McCall v. People 79SC298

Decided 2-2-81.

   In 1977, David Raley went missing.  He had last been seen with McCall, McCarthy, and Steenbarger.  At some point during the investigation, Raley's body was found in an isolated field in Arapahoe County and the Coroner determined that the cause of death was strangulation.  In a recorded meeting between the Arapahoe County DA and representatives of several nearby agencies, it was decided that a team of officers and deputies would go to the suspect's houses and pretend to interview them as witnesses rather than as suspects in the hopes of getting incriminating statements.  The point of this plan was to elicit incriminating statements before taking the suspects into custody.  Although everyone agreed that there was PC to arrest McCall & Co, they did not obtain warrants for their arrest.  Incidentally, McCall was 18 and lived with his parents, and McCarthy lived with McCall.  So a team of deputies and officers went to McCall's house, and another team went to Steenbarger's house.

   At McCall's house, the cops gained consent from McCall's parents to come inside and talk to the kids by falsely assuring them that McCall and McCarthy were not suspects and were only going to be interviewed as witnesses.  Meanwhile, they ordered McCall and McCarthy to sit on a couch, and wouldn't let them leave the living room.  Eventually, the parents agreed to let the cops do their interview in private, and they headed off to another part of the house.  The cops separated McCall and McCarthy by taking McCall out to the police car.  They read McCall his rights, and he agreed to talk to them.  The interrogation lasted about 40 minutes, and McCall denied any involvement in the murder.

   Meanwhile, another team of cops was trying the same approach with Steenbarger.  Steenbarger confessed, and also incriminated McCall.  The cops interrogating Steenbarger informed the cops who were interrogating McCall.  They stopped the interrogation and took McCall to jail (his parents were still hanging out in the basement, unaware of the arrest).  At the jail, McCall was interrogated again and informed that Steenbarger had confessed.  Faced with that, McCall confessed too.

   When Mccall's parents realized that he had been arrested, they called a lawyer.  He called the station and told McCall to shut up.

   McCall was convicted of the murder, and appealed his conviction (arguing that his confession should have been suppressed).  The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the conviction and remanded the case back to the district court for a new trial.  In its decision, the court spelled out two possible justifications for a warrantless arrest in a suspect's home: exigent circumstances, and consent.

   Exigent circumstances: The court referred to Payton v. New York and Warden v. Hayden for an explanation of this requirement, and held that the record in this case was devoid of any suggestion of exigency.  The decision not to apply for a warrant wasn't based on any emergency, but as part of a plan to elicit incriminating statements.

   Consent: The court held that " A voluntary consent by an occupant of premises authorizing entry by the police for the purpose of effecting an arrest inside the home may constitute, under appropriate circumstances, a valid waiver of the warrant requirement."  Unfortunately for the police, that's not what happened in this case.  "Where, as here, entry into the home is gained by a preconceived deception as to purpose, consent in the constitutional sense is lacking."  In other words, you can't trick someone into waiving their rights by telling them that you're there for something else.

   Since there was neither exigency nor consent, the arrest was unlawful.  Since the confession was a direct result of the unlawful arrest, it had to be suppressed as the fruit of the poisonous tree (it didn't matter that McCall had been read his rights and waived them).  So the case was sent back to the district court for a new trial without the confession.

Thursday, January 1, 1998

US Supreme Court Payton v. New York 78-5420.

Decision here.

   This is an old case, but it's an important one... I've known a lot of cops who don't really understand the principles spelled out in this one.

   Anyway, this decision actually involves two separate cases that revolve around the same issue. Early on, it states that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest (that one sentence speaks volumes). The facts of each of the two cases are laid out. In one, the police made a warrantless forced entry into Payton's residence to arrest him for murder. He wasn't present, but a gun was found and seized (he was later arrested elsewhere). In the other, police went to Riddick's house to arrest him (without a warrant) for robbery. Riddick's child answered the door, the officers saw Riddick in the house, and then they entered the house and arrested him without giving him a chance to consent or object to their entry. Drugs were found in the house, and he was charged with possession. In each case, there was probable cause for the arrest but no warrant. In each case, the warrantless entry was made at the suspect's own residence. Both defendants moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless entry into their respective homes.

   After that, the decision explores the origins of the Fourth Amendment, and English Common Law. Read at your own risk, but it's interesting if you like history.

   The last part is as important as the first. Particularly the passage "If there is sufficient evidence of a citizen's participation in a felony to persuade a judicial officer that his arrest is justified, it is constitutionally reasonable to require him to open his doors to the officers of the law. Thus, for Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within."

   While I was reading the decision, I kept wondering why it referred specifically to felony arrests. Then I remembered that not every state authorizes warrantless misdemeanor arrests the way Colorado does... New Mexico, at least, requires a warrant for most misdemeanor arrests (unless there is a specific statutory exception).