Officers may enter a third party's home to serve an arrest warrant without a search warrant under three circumstances. (Photo Rick Roach)
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Scenario: Police officers have an arrest warrant. They have reliable information that their suspect is present in a third party's home. One of the officers can see inside the home through a window and confirms that the suspect is inside.
The officers walk up to the front door and knock on the door. The homeowner answers the door. The officers move the homeowner to the side, enter the residence and arrest the suspect.
Question: Based on this information alone, is the arrest legal?
Answer: No. Absent exigent circumstances or consent, a valid arrest warrant does not carry the authority to enter the third party's residence to search for the subject of the arrest warrant.
According to the Supreme Court in Payton v. New York, this scenario has Fourth Amendment implications. The Court has stated that "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." Thus, when executing the arrest warrant on the suspect in his home, officers must 1) reasonably believe the person resides there and 2) reasonably believe the person is present when the warrant is executed. However, if the suspect is a guest of a third party, and there is no exigency or the home owner does not consent to the officers' entry, then law enforcement officials must obtain a search warrant for the third party's dwelling.
Example: In Steagald v. United States, police officers had an arrest warrant for an individual named Ricky Lyons. They had probable cause to believe that he was staying at the Steagald residence. When the police arrived at the residence, they entered the home and did not find Ricky Lyons. However, they did find cocaine inside the Steagald home. Steagald was indicted, but the cocaine was suppressed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the officers were required to have a search warrant to enter Steagald's home.
Had the officers in Steagald had a valid search warrant and had they believed that Lyons was inside the residence, the evidence located in the residence would have been admissible.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are three exceptions to executing an arrest warrant in a third party's residence without an arrest warrant: reason to believe the suspect lives at the third party's residence, consent and exigency.
Exception #1: Reason to believe the suspect lives at the third party's residence
In United States v. Reinhart, for example, police officers were seeking Scotty Abram, a fugitive parolee. Confidential informants (CIs) told the officers that Abram was staying with Thomas Reinhart in an apartment and that they were manufacturing methamphetamine. They also said that Abram would be carrying a firearm.
The officers went to the apartment to search for Abram and execute a valid arrest warrant. The officers knocked on the door, and Reinhart answered. When the officers asked Reinhart if he knew Abram, they saw Abram rise from the living room floor where he was lying. After positively identifying Abram, Reinhart tried to shut the door on the officers, but they were able to enter the residence and arrested Abram.
While clearing the residence for officer safety, the officers found a loaded handgun under Reinhart's bed and drugs in plain view. As a result of that evidence, the police arrested Reinhart and obtained a search warrant to search for additional contraband.
Reinhart filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the protective sweep and as a result of the subsequent search warrant. He claimed that the officers entered his home unlawfully because they did not have a search warrant for Abram's arrest and that any evidence seized as a result of that unlawful entry violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Under "normal" circumstances, Reinhart might have been correct. However, the court found that the officers did not need a search warrant to serve the arrest warrant on Abram. In this case, the officers had probable cause to believe, based on the information received from the CIs, that Abram was residing with Reinhart. As such, the Steagald rule did not apply. Instead, the court found the Payton rule applied, and the officers could execute the arrest warrant for Abram in his "home."
The court also found that the evidence found during the protective sweep of the home was lawful. Once officers legally enter a home, they have the authority to conduct a protective sweep of the residence if they reasonably believe that a dangerous individual could be located. A protective sweep is limited to a cursory inspection of the places where a person may be found and cannot last longer than is necessary to alleviate any concern for danger.
In this case, because the officers knew that Abram was known to carry a weapon, it was reasonable for officers to believe that other dangerous individuals could be in the residence. Apparently, the sweep lasted for no more than 60 seconds, and in that time, the officers located a firearm and drugs in plain view. Thus, the court found that the officers had probable cause to arrest Reinhart and obtain a search warrant to search for additional contraband.
Exception #2: Consent
Steagald clearly states that officers do not need a search warrant to arrest a suspect on a warrant in a third person's home if the third person consents or there are exigent circumstances. United States v. Cantrell illustrates this circumstance.
Several police officers drove to the residence of Debra James to serve arrest warrants on her and Rick Cantrell. Based on information received from a CI, the officers believed that Cantrell was living with James and was currently at the residence. While driving down a long drive to the residence, the officers located James driving a stolen vehicle. They stopped James and arrested her on the warrant.
During James' arrest, an officer told her that the officers also had an arrest warrant for Cantrell. The officer asked her if Cantrell was inside the house, and she replied that he was. He also asked for her consent to enter the home, which she granted. Sure enough, when the officers knocked on the door, Cantrell answered it, and the officers arrested him.
Again, officers conducted a protective sweep (because James had told the officers that there were weapons inside) and located evidence of manufacturing of methamphetamine. The officers obtained consent from James but not from Cantrell. The officers located a significant amount of contraband as a result of the additional search. Cantrell was charged with crimes related to the evidence because at the time of the search, he told the officers that everything in the house was his and that they needed a search warrant to search the residence.
At the hearing on Cantrell's motion to suppress, Cantrell contended that while the officers had a warrant for his arrest, they still needed a search warrant for the property. The court disagreed because the officers had a reasonable belief that Cantrell resided at the house with James and he was inside the home at the time the warrant was executed. More importantly, consistent with Steagald, even if the officers did not believe that Cantrell resided with James, James' consent to enter the home voided the need to have a search warrant to execute the arrest warrant for Cantrell on James' property.
Exception #3: Exigency
In general, exigent circumstances can be described as "those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts." In determining exigency, courts look to the totality of the circumstances the officers were presented with when they decided to enter the third party's home.
Some factors courts consider in determining whether exigent circumstances exist are:
- the seriousness of the crime;
- whether a delay would pose a threat to public safety; and
- whether the evidence of a crime will be destroyed if there is a delay in obtaining a warrant.
As the term implies, exigency requires a set of facts that requires an immediate response, such as a "hot pursuit" of a felon or serious misdemeanant. Without that, it's often difficult for police officers to establish why they could not have obtained a search warrant.
When officers attempt to execute an arrest warrant in a third party's home, they must have a search warrant. There are exceptions to this general rule. First, officers have reason to believe that the suspect in the arrest warrant lives in the third-party's home. In that case, officers are required to have only an arrest warrant. Second, officers obtain consent from the third party to search the residence. And third, exigent circumstances exist for police officers to enter the residence.
1. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980).
2. Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 221 (1981). See also, United States v. Pruneda, 518 F. 3d 597 (8th Cir. 2008); United States v. Bervaldi, 226 F.3d 1256, 1267 (11th Cir. 2000).
3. 451 U.S. 573.
4. No. CR08-0015, 2008 WL 4180295 (N.D. Iowa, April 8, 2008).
5. Id. (citing Pruneda, supra)
6. 530 F.3d 684 (8th Cir. 2008).
7. The court's holding is not in conflict with the Supreme Court case, Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006) (holding that police cannot search residence when one spouse objects over the consent of other spouse) because the court found the officer's testimony that he never asked Cantrell for permission to search and Cantrell never objected to be more credible than Cantrell's testimony that he objected to the search.
8. United States v. George, 883 F.2d 1407, 1412 (9th Cir. 1989).