“Cadre” of Agents, “Orbiting” Helicopter Insufficient to Find Coerced Consent
A “cadre of armed state and federal agents” and a helicopter “orbiting above” was insufficient to establish involuntary coercion of a defendant’s consent to his home, according to the Fifth Circuit.
Following denial of his motion to suppress contraband seized during a consensual search of his home, as well as his subsequent inculpatory statements, Elmo Menchaca-Lopez entered a conditional guilty plea, to conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. On his subsequent appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Menchaca-Lopez asserted the district court reversibly erred in denying his motion to suppress because his consent to search was coerced by law enforcement.
When a warrantless search is based on consent, the government bears the burden of proving, based on the totality of the circumstances, that consent was voluntarily given. In Menchaca-Lopez’s case, he asserted to the Fifth Circuit that the show of authority by law enforcement officers, “which included a cadre of armed state and federal agents outside his property and a United States Border Patrol helicopter orbiting above, made him believe that a search of his residence would occur whether or not he consented to one.”
In its brief decision, the Fifth Circuit dismissed Menchaca-Lopez’s argument. Without referencing the number of officers or the helicopter, the Fifth Circuit held that “beyond the law enforcement agents’ mere armed presence, Menchaca-Lopez d[id] not point to any specific provocative behavior on their part…that would have caused him to reasonably believe that a search of his residence would occur even if he denied consent.”
Additionally, the appellate court deferred to the district court’s resolution of conflicting testimony and held that police officers did not threaten Menchaca-Lopez that they would search his residence, with or without a warrant, if he did not consent to the search. Thus, the Fifth Circuit held the district court did not err in denying Menchaca-Lopez’s motion to suppress evidence.
Read the full case: U.S. v. Menchaca-Lopez
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
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