CA4: Govt didn’t have requisite cause to enter home of another on an arrest warrant for def

A fascinating Payon / Steagald case: The police here lacked probable cause or even a lower standard of information [the court considering the slightly differing views of the circuits] to believe that defendant lived where they entered. The government here failed to satisfy either prong of Payton. “If Brinkley was merely staying as a guest in someone else’s home, Steagald would require the officers to obtain a search warrant before they could enter it.” The fact the homeowner was reluctant for them to enter without a warrant goes to the heart of the Fourth Amendment, and it can’t be a factor. United States v. Brinkley, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 35716 (4th Cir. Nov. 13, 2020):

Pursuant to Payton and Steagald, the officers needed to establish reason to believe not just that Brinkley was staying in the Stoney Trace apartment but that he resided there. If Brinkley was merely staying as a guest in someone else’s home, Steagald would require the officers to obtain a search warrant before they could enter it. Detective Stark’s discovery that Brinkley was involved with Chisholm, and that Chisholm was associated with the Stoney Trace apartment, certainly provided additional evidence that Brinkley might well have stayed at Chisholm’s home, but it did not speak to whether he did so as a resident or as Chisholm’s overnight guest. See United States v. Werra, 638 F.3d 326, 338 (1st Cir. 2011). Further investigation was necessary to establish probable cause that Brinkley resided there.

Police often conduct such further investigation by going to the suspected residence, where they can obtain “recent, eyewitness evidence connecting the suspect to the residence, and often even [observe] conduct by the suspect that demonstrates a tie to the residence” — “common feature[s]” of cases finding that police satisfied Payton’s first prong. Hardin, 539 F.3d at 421. Officers gather this kind of evidence, for example, by conducting surveillance at the suspected residence. See Hamilton, 819 F.3d at 505 (“police installed a pole camera on [the street outside the residence] for surveillance purposes”); United States v. Barrera, 464 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2006) (officers found three vehicles associated with the suspect at the residence). They also talk to people at or near the residence to gather information from them. See Graham, 553 F.3d at 13 (police corroborated an address from an incident report by, inter alia, showing a picture of the suspect to a person outside the residence); Hardin, 539 F.3d at 407 (officers asked property manager who leased the apartment in question); United States v. Lovelock, 170 F.3d 339, 344-45 (2d Cir. 1999) (police confirmed address listed on suspect’s arrest warrant with two tenants in building). In short, going to the residence in question opens several possible avenues for the police to gather information about whether the suspect in fact resides there.

The officers in this case explained that they went to the Stoney Trace apartment with precisely this investigatory intent in mind. Detective Stark testified that they planned to conduct a “knock-and-talk” at the door of the apartment. J.A. 76. Agent Murphy confirmed that their intent in doing so “was to interview the occupants to find out if Mr. Brinkley was indeed there.” J.A. 113. He further explained that when the officers began speaking with Chisholm at the doorstep, he still intended “to basically secure the area and sit up on the house and wait to see if Mr. Brinkley left.” J.A. 134. And when the officers doubted Chisholm’s assertion that Brinkley was not inside, Detective Stark “asked for her permission … to come through and just do a walk through to make sure that he was indeed not at the residence.” J.A. 115.

That the officers went to the apartment to obtain more information to establish that Brinkley resided there underscores that at the time of their arrival, they had a “limited basis to believe” that he did. Vasquez-Algarin, 821 F.3d at 481. On the doorstep of the apartment, the police officers did talk to an occupant, but they gathered no evidence as to whether this was Brinkley’s residence. The police officers did not even ask Chisholm if Brinkley resided there, but only if he was present — a critical difference under Steagald. The unexpected arrival of five armed officers apparently led Chisholm to grow nervous as they pressed her to allow them to enter. And the officers heard someone, or something, moving inside. But these facts did not establish that Brinkley resided in the home. At the time they entered the Stoney Trace apartment, all the officers had was the same “limited basis to believe” that Brinkley resided there that they had when they knocked on the door.

Of course, “the police need not possess … rock-solid indicators of residence in order to form a ‘reasonable belief’ that a suspect resides at a given place.” Graham, 553 F.3d at 13. But we have seen no case finding Payton’s first prong satisfied on evidence as thin as the evidence here. The information known to the officers suggested that Brinkley may have stayed temporarily in several places. The officers, however, investigated only one. Though the officers developed a well-founded suspicion that Brinkley might have stayed in the Stoney Trace apartment at times, they failed to establish probable cause that he resided there. And because the officers entered the apartment pursuant solely to the authority of the arrest warrant, under Payton and its progeny, their entry was unlawful.

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