CA11: Arrest warrant permits arrest of def in a hotel room when there’s a reasonable belief on totality he’s there

A reasonable belief the defendant is present in a hotel room authorizes the police to enter when they have an arrest warrant for him, even though the motel room is not his “home.” In addition, forcing him to crawl out of the room because of fear of a weapon wasn’t unreasonable. United States v. Mastin, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 27136 (11th Cir. Aug. 26, 2020):

We first consider whether the officers were authorized to enter the hotel room while attempting to execute the arrest warrant. The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A hotel room-though not what ordinarily comes to mind when one pictures a “house”–qualifies as a place in which the people remain “secure” against unreasonable searches and seizures. “No less than a tenant of a house, or the occupant of a room in a boarding house, a guest in a hotel room is entitled to constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 490 (1964) (internal citation omitted); see also United States v. Forker, 928 F.2d 365, 370 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[A] person does not forfeit fourth amendment protections merely because he is residing in a motel room.”).

That means we need to decide whether the officers were entitled to enter the hotel room in their attempt to arrest Mock or Hines. The short answer is yes. An “arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.” United States v. Bervaldi, 226 F.3d 1256, 1263 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Payton, 445 U.S. at 603). So entering a home to carry out an arrest warrant is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment if the officer has a reasonable belief both “that the location to be searched is the suspect’s dwelling” and “that the suspect is within the residence at the time of entry.” Id. (quoting Magluta, 44 F.3d at 1535).

When determining whether an officer reasonably held those two beliefs, we consider the totality of the circumstances-including “common sense factors.” Id. (citing Magluta, 44 F.3d at 1535). A college student, for instance, might fairly be assumed to reside at his parent’s address when school is not in session. See id.

And an officer’s mistaken belief that a suspect resided at a dwelling or was there at a particular time does not necessarily render a search unreasonable or prevent the admission of evidence obtained while attempting to arrest the suspect at that location-so long as the officer’s belief was reasonable in the first place. See id. at 1262-69.

The facts here offer plenty of support for the officers’ testimony that they believed the hotel room was either Mock’s or Hines’s dwelling at the time of entry. They believed the two men were “running together” because of an ongoing dispute with another gang. Neither man was likely to rent a hotel room in his own name- they were wanted for armed robbery, as well as for questioning about a homicide, and would make light work for the officers seeking to arrest them if they revealed their whereabouts by renting a hotel room. But the fugitive task force knew that Rogers-Hines’s girlfriend-had rented a room under her name. And they knew that she had rented that room with another individual present. It was not a leap for the task force to believe that she likely rented the room on behalf of Hines.

. . .

The fact that the officers could not be completely certain does not change that calculus. Consider the result under an alternative rule; it would be a pretty neat trick if two fugitives, along with a few other friends, could split up into two hotel rooms such that police could not be absolutely certain which one they were in. And contrary to Mastin’s contention, the fact that the police knew that he was not Hines or Mock did not remove their ability to enter the hotel room. After all, the “ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness,'” and it was hardly unreasonable for the police to ensure that neither of their arrest targets were in the room. Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). Because the officers reasonably believed that the hotel room was the dwelling of Hines, Mock, or both, and that at least one of them was inside, they did not violate the Fourth Amendment by entering the hotel room to execute the arrest warrants.

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