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United States v. Vasquez-Algarin - 821 F.3d 467 (3d Cir. 2016)

Rule:

Law enforcement armed with only an arrest warrant may not force entry into a home based on anything less than probable cause to believe an arrestee resides at and is then present within the residence. A laxer standard would effect an end-run around the stringent baseline protection established in Steagald and render all private homes - the most sacred of Fourth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. IV spaces - susceptible to search by dint of mere suspicion or uncorroborated information and without the benefit of any judicial determination. Such intrusions are the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed. The Third Circuit therefore joins those Courts of Appeals that have held that reasonable belief in the Payton context embodies the same standard of reasonableness inherent in probable cause.

Facts:

In 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for Edguardo Rivera, a suspect in a homicide case. Deputy U.S. Marshal Gary Duncan, a member of the Dauphin County Fugitive Task Force, received information from another law enforcement officer and from street informants that Rivera was “staying” or “residing” in an address at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. With the arrest warrant for Rivera in hand, Duncan and officers from the Harrisburg Bureau of Police and the Dauphin County Drug Task Force arrived at the apartment and knocked on the door. They received no response; the officers then forcibly entered the home. Upon entering, the officers saw appellant Johnny Vasquez-Algarin, and during a protective sweep, they identified in plain view sandwich baggies, a razor blade, and what appeared to be powder cocaine. After Vasquez-Algarin declined to grant consent for a search, one officer obtained a search warrant while the other officers waited at the apartment. During the subsequent search conducted pursuant to the warrant, the officers discovered ammunition, unused plastic bags, and hundreds of small black bands, as well as a cell phone in the master bedroom that was later searched pursuant to another search warrant. At some point during the search, the officers identified a set of car keys, which they used to open a stolen Mazda located across from the apartment. Vasquez-Algarin, who had no outstanding warrants, was then arrested and was subsequently convicted. Vasquez-Algarin appealed his conviction, asserting that the law enforcement officers needed a search warrant to enter his house.

Issue:

Were the law enforcement officers required to obtain a search warrant to enter defendant’s house; and, by entering defendant's house without a warrent, did the officers violate defendant’s constitutional rights?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

According to the Court, law enforcement officers needed both an arrest warrant and a search warrant to apprehend a suspect at what they know to be a third party's home. Moreover, the Court held that the police officers violated defendant's Fourth Amendment rights when they forcibly entered an apartment with an arrest warrant for a homicide suspect who they believed was "staying" or "residing" there, as information from another officer and street informants, and noises inside the apartment, did not provide the requisite probable cause.

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