Law School Case Brief
United States v. Thomas - 368 U.S. App. D.C. 285, 429 F.3d 282 (2005)
An arrest warrant founded on probable cause that the suspect has committed a crime gives law enforcement officers the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within. The "reason to believe" standard is satisfied by something less than would be required for a finding of "probable cause," the standard of which is consistent with a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the Fourth Amendment permits a search of a suspect's dwelling if officers have reason to believe the suspect is there. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit alone has held that reason to believe embodies the same standard of reasonableness inherent in probable cause. However, it is more likely that the United States Supreme Court used a phrase other than "probable cause" because it meant something other than "probable cause." Accordingly, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit expressly holds that an officer executing an arrest warrant may enter a dwelling if he has only a "reasonable belief," falling short of probable cause to believe, the suspect lives there and is present at the time.
Marshals went to defendant Thomas’ apartment to execute an arrest warrant in connection with a parole violation. Defendant's one bedroom apartment contained a hallway that led to the different rooms. The bedroom was 15 feet from the doorway that opened into the hallway. The marshals made a protective sweep of the apartment and found guns and ammunition in the bedroom closet. Thereafter, defendant was indicted on a single count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). He moved to suppress as the fruits of an unlawful search both the weapons and ammunition seized from his bedroom and the subsequent statement he made admitting possession of the firearms. After the close of evidence at the suppression hearing, defendant raised an alternative ground for suppression, namely, that the officers' initial entry into his apartment was unlawful. Deputy Martin had testified that the Marshals' Service learned where defendant lived after an "investigation was done" and defendant's address "turned up." Defendant argued this evidence was insufficient to establish that the officers had reason to believe defendant lived at the address searched or would be present at the time of the search. The district court denied the motion to suppress in all respects. The court concluded the officers' entry into the apartment was lawful because, per Deputy Martin's testimony, they had reason to believe defendant lived at the address searched. The court upheld the protective sweep because defendant's bedroom "immediately adjoined" the place of arrest, that is, "the hallway immediately inside his front door." Thereafter, a jury found defendant guilty as charged and the district court sentenced him to the minimum 188 months of imprisonment allowed under the Sentencing Guidelines, which specified a range of 188-235 months. Defendant appealed the conviction.
Was the officers' entry into defendant's apartment to execute an arrest warrant lawful?
In considering defendant’s appeal, the Court held that an officer executing an arrest warrant could enter a dwelling if he had only a "reasonable belief," falling short of probable cause to believe, the suspect lived there and was present at the time. The Court further held that the marshals' entry into the apartment was legal because the marshals had a valid warrant, and there was reason to believe that defendant lived in that apartment, as that was the address that the marshals found after conducting an investigation, as well as reason to believe that defendant would be home, given the early morning hour at the time of the arrest. Furthermore, the Court averred that the marshals' protective sweep of the bedroom was permissible because that room was accessed from the hallway that the marshals had to use to leave after entering the living room with defendant.
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