PA: “Reason to believe” in Payton and Steagald means probable cause

“Reason to believe” in Payton and Steagald means probable cause. It cannot constitutionally be less and be faithful to the protection of the home from unreasonable invasions. This case includes a thorough discussion of both cases and their constitutional requirements. Commonwealth v. Romero, 2018 Pa. LEXIS 2054 (Apr. 26, 2018):

Today’s cases require us to consider the central question that distinguishes Steagald’s holding from Payton’s dictum, but which those decisions left wholly unaddressed. Specifically, when a law enforcement officer seeks to execute an arrest warrant inside a home, how it is to be determined that the home is that of the intended arrestee, such that the Payton dictum could apply, rather than the home of a third party, where Steagald will control? Our analysis of this issue necessarily implicates and concerns two principles that stand at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment: the essential protection of the privacy in one’s home and the necessity of the warrant requirement.

. . .

Like Payton, Steagald does not contemplate the possibility of uncertain residency, nor does it address the proper means of resolving that uncertainty. But read alongside Payton, the Court’s reasoning in Steagald makes clear that its determination of the legality of a forced home entry in this context turns on whether the officer has the benefit of some type of probable cause determination by a neutral arbiter, be that by way of an arrest warrant or search warrant.

Given this precedent and the constitutional principles at stake, law enforcement armed only with 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 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.” Payton, 445 U.S. at 585. We therefore join those Courts of Appeals that have held that reasonable belief in the Payton context “embodies the same standard of reasonableness inherent in probable cause.” Gorman, 314 F.3d at 1111; accord Barrera, 464 F.3d at 501.

Id. at 480 (citation modified).

We agree with the Vasquez-Algarin court’s reasoning, and similarly conclude that the authority contemplated by the Payton dictum cannot operate upon anything less than probable cause. However, this conclusion does not resolve the matter, nor does it relieve the inherent tension between Steagald and the Payton dictum. A more fundamental problem remains. Even if a Payton entry requires probable cause, the central concerns underlying the Steagald decision are not addressed unless the manner by which that determination is made comports with the essential purpose of the warrant requirement.

While the Commonwealth suggests that the Payton dictum did not apply in Steagald because the officers believed Lyons to be a guest in the home, and not a resident thereof, see Brief for Commonwealth at 16, the dispositive distinction in Steagald was between the liberty interest of the arrestee and the privacy interest of a third party, and the Court’s holding was compelled by the arrest warrant’s satisfaction of the warrant requirement with regard to the former interest, but not the latter. The arrest warrant ensured that the seizure of Lyons was reasonable, but “it did absolutely nothing to protect” Steagald from “an unreasonable invasion and search of his home.”

Steagald, 451 U.S. at 213. Instead, Steagald’s only protection “was the agent’s personal determination of probable cause.” Id. The entry into and search of Steagald’s residence was unlawful precisely because “such judicially untested determinations are not reliable enough to justify an entry into a person’s home to arrest him without a warrant, or a search of a home for objects in the absence of a search warrant.” Id. at 213-14 (citing, inter alia, Payton). In other words, with regard to the privacy of a third party’s home, a warrant for another individual’s arrest does not satisfy the essential purpose of the warrant requirement. Instead, a search warrant reflecting a magisterial determination of probable cause is required.

Steagald’s distinction goes to the very core of the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The warrant requirement is an embodiment of the Framers’ mistrust of unchecked executive authority, a safeguard against unilateral assessments of the need for an intrusion by officials whose mission requires such intrusions as a matter of course. As the Supreme Court eloquently articulated long ago:

The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. Any assumption that evidence sufficient to support a magistrate’s disinterested determination to issue a search warrant will justify the officers in making a search without a warrant would reduce the Amendment to a nullity and leave the people’s homes secure only in the discretion of police officers. Crime, even in the privacy of one’s own quarters, is, of course, of grave concern to society, and the law allows such crime to be reached on proper showing. The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is also a grave concern, not only to the individual but to a society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not by a policeman or Government enforcement agent.

Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13-14 (1948).

Every search or seizure is a conflict between competing interests. The state has an interest in detecting, thwarting, and prosecuting crime, and the individual has an interest in freedom from unjustified intrusions upon her privacy or liberty. Law enforcement officers are the
instrumentalities and representatives of the state’s interest.

Their duty is to enforce the law, to apprehend those who violate it, and to acquire evidence of those violations for use in future prosecutions. It is decidedly not a law enforcement prerogative to weigh the value of a given search or seizure against the rights of the individual whose interests necessarily will be compromised by it-rights that inevitably serve as hurdles to be overcome in the execution of essential law enforcement functions. The warrant requirement recognizes that effective law enforcement in a free society will involve a constant balancing of these divergent interests, and it interposes the independent judgment of the judiciary as a check upon the power inherent in the law enforcement process. To safeguard the individual’s protected interests and to ensure that incursions upon the Fourth Amendment’s essential rights are justified, the warrant requirement inherently mandates a procedure by which a neutral and detached magistrate determines that a contemplated search or seizure is supported by probable cause.

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