Sunday, April 13, 2014

Win: A Curtilage Case

From our counterpart in Utah, a quick and solid win. Quick because it was argued March 20, and solid because it resulted in suppression of the handgun in a felon-in-possession case. US v. Chavez was an appeal by the government from the district court suppression of evidence found in the home where Chavez was arrested. The decision: officers did not have reasonable belief that Chavez was even present at the home when they crossed into the curtilage.

Short facts: A CI had info about Chavez. Police found an outstanding arrest warrant, however, it did not list the same address given by the CI. They determined that the house was owned by someone related to Chavez. A police officer went into the fenced backyard and looked through a gap in the blinds to see Chavez inside with a handgun; police moved in, with tear gas and a SWAT team, arrested Chavez, and found the gun.

Chavez challenged the warrantless police entry into the backyard curtilage, and that the arrest warrant did not justify entry onto the property. Relying on Payton, 455 US 573 (1980), the Circuit found,

  • "It is unnecessary for this court to decide whether the officers had a reasonable belief Chavez lived in the Westwood house, because, even if they did, we conclude they did not have an objectively reasonable belief he was present at the time they entered the curtilage."
  • "Officers are not required to actually view the suspect, but the circumstances must give them a reasonable belief the suspect is present in the home. Relevant facts include, but are not limited to, the presence of an automobile, the time of day, and the operation of lights at night."  
  • "Because officers did not have an objectively reasonable belief Chavez could be found within the Westwood house at the time they entered the property, their entry violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment."  
Short take-away: For police to rely on an arrest warrant to cross into the curtilage of a residence, they must have had a reasonable and objective belief that the target of the arrest warrant was actually present at the time of entry. 

For Chavez, "the observations made by Detective Hughes when he peered through the blinds into the Westwood house, and the fruits of those observations, must be suppressed. As the district court noted, this includes the firearm."

-- Melody


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