Post details: CA4: Three hour detention of defendant waiting for search warrant was unreasonable because there was no probable cause as to him

01/04/13

Permalink 12:01:50 am, by fourth, 418 words, 1526 views   English (US)
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CA4: Three hour detention of defendant waiting for search warrant was unreasonable because there was no probable cause as to him

The three hour detention of defendant in a building while waiting for a search warrant to arrive where there was no probable cause to believe that the defendant committed any crime or was going to destroy any evidence was unreasonable. His statement during the detention is suppressed. United States v. Watson, 703 F.3d 684 (4th Cir. 2013):

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We are not aware of any Supreme Court case or federal appellate decision permitting a three-hour detention of an occupant of a building who lacks any specific connection to suspected criminal activity, while police obtain a warrant to search that building. Moreover, the detention that occurred in the present case lasted significantly longer than any reasonable period the officers needed to alleviate potential threats to their safety. At some point during Watson's detention, likely close to its inception, any potential threat that Watson posed to the officers' safety had dissipated. Thus, at that point, any reasonable justification for continuing to detain Watson dissipated as well.

This is not a case in which there was any evidence presented to the district court suggesting that the police were reasonably concerned that the release of Watson, and the owner of the store, Steele, could endanger the officers who were awaiting the issuance of the search warrant. There is no evidence in the record that Watson posed any risk to officer safety, and that his continued seizure was necessary for that reason. Further, the mere supposition that Watson, if he had been removed from the building, could have alerted others concerning the police activity in the building did not provide such a justification to detain Watson. The present record lacks any evidence that Watson knew individuals who had not been detained, but were connected to the suspected criminal activity, and who could have posed a threat to the officers' safety. Therefore, the record fails to support the need for even a brief extension of Watson's initial detention until additional officers could be brought to the area to monitor the situation.

Accordingly, in "balanc[ing] the intrusion on [Watson's] Fourth Amendment interests against [the] promotion of legitimate governmental interests," Buie, 494 U.S. at 331, we hold that the evidence in this case weighs decisively in Watson's favor. There simply is nothing in the record in this case suggesting that the government has met its burden of demonstrating a legitimate public interest in detaining Watson for three hours. Thus, we conclude that Watson's three-hour detention was unreasonable and constituted an unlawful custodial arrest in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

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