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Law School Case Brief

Valdez v. McPheters - 172 F.3d 1220 (10th Cir. 1999)


Direct surveillance or the actual viewing of the suspect on the premises is not required. Indeed, the officers may take into account the fact that a person involved in criminal activity may be attempting to conceal his whereabouts. The suspect's presence may be suggested by the presence of an automobile or time of day. And the officers may consider an absence of evidence the suspect is elsewhere. No single factor is dispositive. Rather, the court must look at all of the circumstances present in the case to determine whether the officers entering the residence had a reasonable belief that the suspect resided there and would be found within.


FBI Special Agent Samuel Michael McPheters and Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Officer Gregory Littlewhiteman arrived at the Rosanna Valdez's residence in LaPoint, Utah. The officers told Valdez that there was an outstanding felony warrant for the arrest of her son, Raymond Nathaniel Valdez. McPheters told Valdez they would like to come inside to see if her son was present. According to the officers, Valdez told them to "go ahead." On the other hand, Valdez stated that she told the officers they could not search for her son without a search warrant. Nevertheless, the premises were searched. Raymond was not there but eventually surrendered a few weeks later. Valdez subsequently instituted action against the police officers, alleging that McPheters and Littlewhiteman violated her constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The defendants' filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which was granted by the District Court. The case was appealed wherein Valdez asserted that she did not consent to the officers' entry.


Was the search of the mother's home valid, even though police officers neither had a search warrant nor did the homeowner consent to the search?




The court affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that the officers had a reasonable belief that plaintiff's son resided in the home at the time of the entry. According to the appeals court, one of the circumstances that permitted an entry into a residence without a search warrant was the existence of a valid arrest warrant for a suspect. The appeals court held that entry into a residence pursuant to an arrest warrant was permitted when the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the law enforcement agents, when viewed in the totality, warranted a reasonable belief that the location to be searched was the suspect's dwelling and that the suspect was within the residence at the time of entry. The appeals court found that the fact that the officers had a variety of sources that indicated that plaintiff's son resided in the home satisfied the reasonable belief test.

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