The Tenth reminds us that, in Payton v. New York, the Supreme Court said that "an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is present within."
Initially, we note one thing that was not at issue: whether the defendant actually lived at the residence (he did). The case concerns whether the officers had "reason to believe" that Denson was at home at the time of the search.
The Court ultimately says yes, but it skirts an issue before doing so: whether "reason to believe" is synonymous with "probable cause." The Court reminds us that, under Tenth Circuit precedent, it is something less than probable cause. But other Circuits equate the phrase with probable cause. The Court avoids this conundrum by finding that the officers had probable cause to believe that Denson was at home based on four facts:
- Denson recently opened the utility account, and officers were unaware that he had any other residence (we pause to note that this fact alone does nothing to establish that he was home at the time of the search);
- Officers did not think that Denson had a job, making it likely that he would be at home at 8:30 a.m. on a weekday (not a bad point);
- Denson was on the lam, and where better to hide than your home? (the opposite seems equally plausible to us; why not hide out someplace other than your own home?); and
- the electric meter "was whirling away" on this "wintry Wichita morning" (we have no idea how this establishes Denson's presence in the home)
The Court skirted two other issues in this one:
- whether fresh footprints in the snow further added to the probable cause equation (ignored because Denson claimed the officers were trespassing when they saw the prints); and
- whether the use of a Doppler radar device capable of detecting from outside the home "the presence of human breathing and movement within." The Court left for another day the constitutionality of this device, but hinted that a warrant might be necessary.
If you've made it this far, one final issue: whether the seizure of firearms was proper under the plain view doctrine. The Court rejected the argument that the guns were not necessarily contraband, noting that they were found in the home of a felon (think constructive possession here). So, probable cause to seize the guns existed.