As the First Circuit reminds us this last week, a valid exception to the warrant requirement better apply before law enforcement goes traipsing through someone’s home without a warrant; palpably pretextual assertions later lodged as an exception cannot withstand scrutiny, especially when it comes to warrantless searches of the home, the “first among equals” under the Fourth Amendment. Florida v. Jardines, __U.S.__, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1414 (2013) (“At the Amendment’s very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable government intrusion.”) (cleaned up).
States v. Diaz-Jimenez, law enforcement carried out a
warrantless search of a suspect’s home more than eight hours after the
completion of an armed bank robbery. The search also took place after the two suspects had already been
arrested. The district court denied Mr. Diaz’s motion to suppress evidence
seized from the warrantless intrusion, and he was convicted by a
jury after a joint trial.
But the First Circuit vacated Mr. Diaz’s conviction finding that the district court erred in not suppressing the evidence. Neither Buie’s protective-sweep exception
nor voluntary consent—“the only even arguably relevant exceptions to the
warrant requirement”—could salvage the evidence. The
government did not present any evidence to support a reasonable inference
that at the time of the intrusion, law enforcement believed there was someone
armed in the home—let alone anyone at all—to pose an ongoing threat. And the
government’s second bite of the apple as to an exception authorizing the warrantless search, too, was without merit; any consent to
search obtained from Mr. Diaz as he stood handcuffed outside his home surrounded
by a SWAT team that had already conducted a sweep and discovered
incriminating evidence could not be deemed voluntary. (As the
Second Circuit noted, “[t]he prosecution did not even attempt to make such a
error, the First Circuit concluded, “was certainly not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” given that the evidence was “central” to the government’s case.