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In considering Fourth Amendment claims, both the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and other circuit courts routinely distinguish between an arrest itself and subsequent procurement of clothing for the arrestee, requiring independent justification for entry or reentry into a room or dwelling after the arrest itself has been completed. An officer is authorized to take reasonable steps to address the safety of the arrestee and the arrestee's partially clothed status may constitute an exigency justifying the officer's temporary reentry into the arrestee's home to retrieve clothes reasonably calculated to lessen the risk of injury to the defendant.
Defendant, who absconded from supervision, was arrested in his apartment bedroom by parole officers. An officer returned to the bedroom to find defendant's shoes and discovered marijuana and three photographs. The officers conducted a further search and found handguns. Defendant was tried jointly with a co-defendant, another parolee who was in the apartment. Defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 922(g)(1). Defendant appealed, arguing that the guns should have been suppressed because the officers who arrested him were not justified in conducting the search that uncovered them.
Were the officers justified in conducting the subsequent search that uncovered the handguns?
The district court’s judgment was affirmed. The appellate court found that the officer's discovery of the marijuana and photos provided reasonable suspicion justifying the subsequent search. The need to procure shoes for defendant constituted exigent circumstances allowing the officer to reenter the bedroom.