CA2: Crossing threshold to arrest without warrant violates Fourth Amendment

Officers stepping across the threshold to arrest without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Allen, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 1467 (2d Cir. Jan. 29, 2016):

“[W]hen it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals.” Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409, 1414 (2013). At the Amendment’s “very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961). In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), the Supreme Court held that, in the absence of exigent circumstances, the Amendment prohibits law enforcement officials from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect’s home to arrest him.

Defendant-appellant Dennis B. Allen, Jr., appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Christina Reiss, Chief Judge) convicting him, upon entry of a conditional guilty plea, of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The district court entered its judgment after denying Allen’s motion to suppress statements and a gun obtained following a warrantless arrest by local police officers at the front door of his home. The district court concluded that although Allen was inside the threshold of his home when he was arrested, no Fourth Amendment violation occurred because the police were able to effect the arrest without crossing the threshold themselves.

This a liminal case, which presents a close line-drawing problem. If the officers had gone into Allen’s apartment without a warrant to effect the arrest, the arrest would violate the Constitution; if Allen had come out of the apartment into the street and been arrested there, no warrant would be required. We conclude that the protections of Payton are primarily triggered by the arrested person’s location and do not depend on the location or conduct of the arresting officers. Because it is uncontested that Allen remained inside his home, and was in his home when the officers placed him under arrest, his warrantless arrest in the absence of exigent circumstances violated the Fourth Amendment. We therefore vacate the judgment of conviction, reverse the denial of the suppression motion, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

. . .

This Court’s seminal case analyzing warrantless arrests in the home, Reed, predates Payton. There, we addressed the “important and [as of that time] oft-reserved question whether and under what circumstances federal law enforcement officers may enter the home of a suspect in order to effect a felony arrest for which they have statutory authority and probable cause but no warrant.” 572 F.2d at 414. Three armed federal agents knocked on the door of Reed’s apartment, and Reed opened the door. Id. at 415. The testimony about what transpired next differed. Reed testified “that the agents ‘rushed in’ immediately after she pulled the door open and then arrested her.” Id. at 422. One of the arresting agents, however, “testified that he placed Reed under arrest in the living room-dining room part of the apartment after advising her at the door that his purpose was to place her under arrest.” Id. (emphasis added). The district court, we noted, “believed that Reed was arrested when she opened the door.” Id. We did not find that factual finding to be clearly erroneous, and instead reasoned that

[n]o matter which of these versions is most accurate, Reed’s arrest was effected not in a “public” place but in a place protected by the Fourth Amendment. She was not arrested in the hallway of the apartment building. Nor was she standing on the threshold of her apartment in such a way that she would have been inside the apartment by taking a step backward and “outside” by taking a step forward. … Rather, she was arrested inside of her home.

Id. at 422-23 (emphasis added). Regardless of the officer’s position with respect to the threshold at the time of the arrest, we concluded, Reed retained the protections of her home. Indeed, we further noted that we did not believe that

the fact that Reed opened the door to her apartment in response to the knock of three armed federal agents operated in such a way as to eradicate her Fourth Amendment privacy interest. To hold otherwise would be to present occupants with an unfair dilemma, to say the least[—]either open the door and thereby forfeit cherished privacy interests or refuse to open the door and thereby run the risk of creating the appearance of an “exigency” sufficient to justify a forcible entry. This would hardly seem fair in situations that present no exigent circumstances in the first place.

Id. at 423 n.9 (citation omitted).

Reed, a decision expressly approved by the Supreme Court in Payton,8 thus provides strong support for Allen’s position. Under one of the factual scenarios that we accepted as true for purposes of that case, Reed was arrested while she stood inside her threshold and officers remained outside of it. We held that if that is what occurred, such an “across the threshold” arrest was unconstitutional.

This entry was posted in Arrest or entry on arrest. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.