case law update

D.C. Circuit: Knock-and-Announce Violations

Special Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives began investigating Mr. Michael Weaver in 2008. Agents searched through trash outside his home and found marijuana.

Then, agents executed a warrant to search Mr. Weaver’s residence in late 2009, discovering drugs, $38,000 in cash, and drug packaging materials. Mr. Weaver’s bank records and identified regular, unexplained cash deposits and a balance of more than $100,000 from unknown sources. In 2010, prosecutors indicted Mr. Weaver on 52 separate counts, including possession with intent to distribute marijuana and money laundering.

The Government was unable to apprehend Mr. Weaver until 2012, when the agents learned the location of his new residence.  The agents obtained an arrest warrant, but not a search warrant for the new residence.  After arriving at Mr. Weaver’s residence, the agents knocked on his apartment door twice without identifying themselves or stating they possessed a warrant.  There was no answer, but the agents heard movement inside.  They were not concerned that Mr. Weaver would flee out a window because the apartment was on a high floor.  Less than a minute later, the agents announced “police” and immediately used a key they had obtained from the building’s concierge to unlock the door, entered into the apartment, and observed bags of marijuana in the course of arresting Mr. Weaver.  Based on the observation of marijuana, the agents obtained a search warrant.  They subsequently discovered marijuana, oxycodone, methylenexdioxymethcathinone (“MDMC,” or “bath salts”), and nearly $10,000 in cash in the apartment.  The 2012 search of Mr. Weaver’s residence generated three additional drug charges.

At trial before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the presiding judge dismissed all 52 of the 2010 charges because the Government violated Mr. Weaver’s right to a speedy trial.  The Government dismissed several additional charges, and ultimately, Mr. Weaver was tried only for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute based on the marijuana present in his apartment in the 2012 search.  Mr. Weaver moved to suppress evidence produced by the 2012 search of his new apartment, contending the warrant authorizing that search derived solely from the observations of marijuana agents made while executing the arrest warrants, and that the agents were not legally authorized to be in his apartment when they made those observations because they had violated the knock-and-announce rule.  The district court rejected Mr. Weaver’s motion to suppress and found him guilty of the charge.  Mr. Weaver appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

The Court of Appeals found the knock-and-announce rule was violated when agents failed to announce their purpose before entering Mr. Weaver’s apartment, a fact that the Government conceded.  The knock-and-announce rule requires that law enforcement officers executing a warrant—either a search or arrest warrant —knock on an individual’s door, announce their identity and purpose, and then wait a reasonable amount of time before forcibly entering a home.  Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 934-36 (1995). 

The Supreme Court, in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006), previously held that where there is a knock-and-announce violation, but officers possessed a valid search warrant (as opposed to an arrest warrant), evidence need not be suppressed.  This is because officers still had valid authority to search the home, would have discovered the same evidence if there had been a proper knock-and-announce before searching, and officers gained access to no additional evidence purely as a result of their violation. 

However, the Court of Appeals found no binding Federal precedent has ever decided whether the same rationale applied where officers possess only an arrest warrant, but no search warrant.  The difference was material, the Court of Appeals found, because “law enforcement officers’ authority under an arrest warrant to enter and search a home is both more conditional and more circumscribed than their authority under a search warrant.  Officers armed with a search warrant may enter a home and search for the items described in the warrant anywhere in the home where those items might be located.  In executing an arrest warrant, officers may enter an individual’s home only when they have reason to believe the arrestee is there . . . may look only where a person might reasonably be found, and must stop searching once they locate him. . . .  Once officers find the arrestee . . . they are no longer authorized by the arrest warrant to enter other rooms in the home; the arrestee retains an expectation of privacy in those areas.”

“In the arrest warrant context, the knock-and-announce rule protects the arrestee’s privacy as well as his property and the officers’ safety.  That privacy interest is not limited—as it is in the face of a warrant to search the home—to providing the arrestee with an opportunity to compose himself or get dressed, but also enables the arrestee to preserve the privacy of his ‘castle’ by surrendering himself at the door.  If an arrestee so surrenders himself, officers cannot make the more extensive intrusion into the home that they are authorized to make when an arrestee does not come to the door.  The knock-and-announce rule consequently protects an arrestee’s interest in shielding intimate details of his home from the view of government agents.”

“It is . . . easy to understand the additional value of the knock-and-announce rule to a person facing arrest at home . . . .  Someone living with his family might, for example, prefer to surrender himself on his doorstep to avoid being arrested in front of his family members, especially children.  A person may also desire to keep private and personal papers and effects in the home, or the fact or identity of a guest, from government agents’ view.  The Fourth Amendment’s protection of the privacy of personal spaces, documents, and things at home applies whether or not they are evidence of wrongdoing or a potential source of embarrassment.  Every householder, the good and the bad, the guilty and the innocent, is entitled to the protection designed to secure the common interest against unlawful invasion of the house.”

Applying that logic, the Court of Appeals found a clear causal connection between the knock-and-announce violation and the discovery of Mr. Weaver’s contraband.  If agents had performed a proper knock-and-announce, Mr. Weaver would have been afforded a chance to surrender himself at the doorway; had he done so, agents likely would not have seen his marijuana, which in turn was the sole basis for his conviction. 

The Court of Appeals also noted that because agents possessed only an arrest warrant, but not a search warrant, they had either made no effort to obtain a search warrant, or else no probable cause existed to issue one.  In either situation, the agents were not permitted to needlessly enter and search Mr. Weaver’s home. 

The Court of Appeals thus found that suppression was required, reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, and remanded for further proceedings. 

Read the full case: United States v. Weaver

 

This case law update was written by Michael S. Causey, associate attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.

For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases

Posted in Case Law Update

Tags: case law update, michael s causey

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