Monday, October 23, 2006

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Aarness 05SC237

Decision here.

   Police received a tip that Aarness was in an apartment, that he was armed with a gun, and that he had warrants for his arrest.  They verified that he had warrants, but didn't bother to look into whether or not he lived at the apartment.  They knocked on the door with guns drawn, and Aarness' brother answered the door.  Aarness was sitting in a chair with his hands shoved down between the cushions, and ignored orders to show his hands.  The police took everyone else out of the house, and eventually went into the apartment to arrest Aarness.  Aarness had drugs and a handgun magazine on him.  During a sweep of the apartment, the police found another person, more drugs, and a gun.

   Aarness moved to suppress all the evidence.  The prosecution argued that the police's entry was justified under Payton.  The trial court denied the motion, but the appelate court reversed that decision and suppressed the evidence because the police only satisfied half of Payton's requirements: they had reason to believe that Aarness was in the apartment, but they had no information at all regarding whether he lived there.  The prosecution appealed.

   The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that although the appelate court had correctly determined that Payton did not justify warrantless entry, exigent circumstances did.  Aarness argued that this was a police-created exigency, but the court disagreed.  Even though the police came to the door with guns drawn, it was Aarness' actions in refusing to show them his hands (combined with their knowledge that he was armed) that created the exigent circumstances.

   Previous to this case, the court had identified three exigent circumstances which justify entering a house: hot pursuit, destruction of evidence, and an emergency threatening the life or safety of another.  The court didn't think that any of these three were a precise fit for this case, so it described several factors that can be used to determine whether or not cases outside of those three constitute exigent circumstances: 1- whether a grave offense is involved (particularly a crime of violence), 2- whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed, 3- whether there exists a clear showing of probable cause to arrest the suspect, 4- whether there is a strong reason to believe the suspect is in the premises, 5- the likelihood that the suspect will escape, 6- whether entry is made peaceably, and 7- whether entry is made at night.  I'm not sure which side those last two are supposed to weigh on... seems like unpeacable entries and night entries would be the greater intrusion and might take more justification for that reason.  But it also seams like unpeacable entries and night entries would be more typical of exigency.  Oh, well... the court didn't see fit to elaborate on that point.

   In any event, the police weren't able to justify their entry under Payton like they tried to, but they squeaked by on exigent circumstances in this case.  The order suppressing the evidence was reveresed.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

US Supreme Court Hudson v. Michigan 04-1360

Decision here.

   Police in Michigan had a warrant to search Hudson's house for guns and drugs.  They knocked and announced, waited just a few seconds, and then opened the unlocked door and conducted their search.  They found what they were looking for, and a lot of it.

   Hudson tried to get the evidence suppressed, arguing that opening the door so quickly violated the knock and announce requirement of the warrant and therefore his fourth amendment rights.  That didn't work (the Michigan court of appeals recognized that there was a knock and announce violation, but held that suppression was not the proper remedy), and Hudson was convicted.  He appealed.

   The US Supreme Court described some reasons for the existence of a knock and announce requirement: it gives suspects a chance to comply with the search warrant, protects life and limb by preventing suspects from acting violently in mistaken self defense, and allows suspects to prevent the destruction of their property caused by a forcible entry.  The court also described some exceptions to the knock and announce rule: the rule is suspended if the police have reasonable suspicion to believe that they will encounter violent resistance, that a warning would lead to the destruction of evidence, or that knocking and announcing would be futile.

   So the point of a knock and announce requirement has absolutely nothing to do with preventing the government from searching or from discovering evidence.  Therefore, the court ruled that the evidence should not be suppressed because suppressing evidence wouldn't protect the rights that are violated by failure to knock and announce.  Also, the cost to society of applying the exclusionary rule would be too high, and the benefit to society of using such a harsh measure to ensure that the police wait a moment longer before making entry with a warrant would be negligible.

   Hudson still had the option to sue the police civilly for the knock and announce violation, but whether or not he would win there the violation didn't affect the criminal case.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

US Supreme Court Georgia v. Randolph 04-1067


   This decision isn't all that recent, but it's relevant to another case I'm about to discuss.

   This case was a custody dispute where Randolph's wife (hereinafter referred to as "a mad woman") informed the police that Randolph had cocaine in the house.  Randolph vehemently refused to consent to a search of the house, so the police asked his wife for consent.  She consented to the search, paraphernalia was found.  The mad woman withdrew her consent, the police got a warrant, more evidence was found, and Randolph was charged with possession of cocaine.

   The court held that the refusal of a present occupant of a house trumps the consent of another present occupant.  The decision also spells out that the police may not remove the objecting party from the house for the sake overcoming their objection to the search (it had to be said).  The evidence was suppressed.