N.D.Iowa: Knocking on hotel room door and grabbing def to pull him out, even with an arrest warrant, violated his constitutionally protected area

Defendant answered the door of his hotel room, and he was pulled into the hallway and officers entered the room. Their justification: They understood he had a sawed off shotgun. But, they lacked any real factual justification that he actually did. Their officer safety as a justification fails. There was no exigency from sounds inside that were innocuous and not suggestive of destruction of evidence. “Interviewing the occupant” also can’t be justified as a protective sweep. There was probable cause for his arrest, but no exigency anywhere. A search warrant was later issued for the hotel room, and the CI’s information was sufficient and corroborated to find probable cause. Finally, probable cause was shown for taking defendant’s urine, too. United States v. Zarate, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128719 (N.D. Iowa July 3, 2019):

I find that the entry by law enforcement into the hotel room when Officer Ehlers grabbed the Defendant and pulled him into the hallway and when the other officers entered the room constituted an intrusion on a constitutionally protected area. Accordingly, the hotel room retained the characteristics of a private place and unless this search was justified based upon the considerations below, it was presumptively unreasonable and the fruits of the search may be subject to exclusion.

. . .

… The evidence at most showed that the officers heard people moving in the room. Officer Ehlers testified that none of the noises implicated the destruction of evidence. Innocuous moving noises from the other side of the door do not constitute exigent circumstances.

. . .

In the case at bar, the Government offered little support for the assertion that Defendant presented a threat to safety while he was in his hotel room. He had made no threats and he had not brandished the shotgun that was, in any event, left in Patterson’s car. The officers did know another person was in the room and had intelligence the Defendant possessed bladed weapons. Nevertheless, I recommend the Court find there were no exigent circumstances based on officer safety. The Government’s reference at the hearing to the need to make a protective sweep for officer safety confuses the issue. The Government needs to show the exigent circumstances that justifies law enforcement’s entry into the hotel room in the first place. Once law enforcement has entered, a protective sweep for officer safety may be justified. See United States v. Green, 560 F.3d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 337 (1990)). However, law enforcement cannot justify the decision to enter in the first instance by the need to protect themselves once they are in.

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