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Fourth Circuit Announces Payton’s ‘Reason to Believe’ Standard for Entering a Third-Party’s Home Based on Arrest Warrant for Suspect Amounts to Probable Cause Suspect Resides There

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the phrase “reason to believe the suspect is within” in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), means that when police enter a third-party’s residence without a search warrant to execute an arrest warrant, they must have probable cause to believe both that the suspect resides there and that the suspect is present.

Members of a federal-state task force in North Carolina sought to execute an arrest warrant charging Kendrick Brinkley with felon in possession of a firearm. Special Agent Jason Murphy and Detective Robert Stark searched online and found numerous addresses for Brinkley, including one for an apartment on Stoney Trace Drive in Mint Hill where Brinkley’s girlfriend, Brittany Chisholm, resided. Because of the multiple listings, neither officer was certain he had uncovered Brinkley’s current residence.

Murphy, Stark, and three other officers decided to go to the Stoney Trace address to conduct a “knock-and-talk” to find out if Brinkley was there and arrest him if so. Stark knocked on the door at around 8:30 a.m. and announced to a woman inside that it was the police. Chisholm opened the door. Stark asked her for permission to enter the apartment to look for Brinkley. According to Stark, Chisholm’s body tensed and her breathing quickened while she looked back toward another room from which police heard movement.

Chisholm answered that she did not want the officers to enter her apartment and asked if they had a search warrant. Murphy then told Chisholm he believed she was hiding Brinkley and that the officers were going to enter to arrest him. The officers entered and arrested Brinkley in a bedroom. Based on observing drugs and a scale, officers obtained a search warrant and ultimately seized cocaine and three firearms. A grand jury indicted Brinkley on the felon-in-possession charged in the warrant, plus additional offenses related to the evidence seized after his arrest.

After the district court denied Brinkley’s motion to suppress the evidence seized at the apartment, Brinkley entered an unconditional guilty plea to the felon-in-possession charged in the warrant. But his guilty pleas to the additional offenses were conditioned on his appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress.

The Fourth Circuit observed “[t]he Fourth Amendment protects ‘[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’” With limited exceptions, a search or seizure without a warrant is unreasonable. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). The warrant requirement ensures that probable cause to search is determined by a neutral, detached magistrate instead of law enforcement officers who are often zealous to ferret out crime. Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014).

The warrant requirement carries special force when police seek entrance into a private home, which is “afforded the most stringent Fourth Amendment protection.” United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976). If police seek to enter a private home to execute an arrest warrant on a person who does not reside at the home, police must also secure a search warrant for that residence in the absence of exigent circumstances or consent. Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981). In contrast, an arrest warrant alone will suffice if the police “have reason to believe” the residence is the suspect’s home and that he is present within the home at the time they execute the warrant. Payton.

When police enter what they believe to be the suspect’s own residence to execute an arrest warrant, Payton controls. In Payton, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed that “for Fourth Amendment purposes, 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.”

The Courts of Appeals have unanimously determined that the “reason to believe the suspect is within” Payton standard requires the following two-prong analysis: police have reason to believe both (1) “that the location is the defendant’s residence” and (2) “that he [will] be home when they enter.” United States v. Hill, 649 F.3d 258 (4th Cir. 2011). However, the Circuits are split on the issue of the quantum of proof required to satisfy the Payton test, the Court explained. One group has interpreted “reason to believe” to require less than probable cause, but the other group has determined that the two terms are equivalent, according to the Court, citing United States v. Vasquez-Algarin, 821 F.3d 258 (3d Cir. 2016) (collecting cases).

After reviewing the rationale of the two camps’ conflicting positions, the Court held that “reason to believe” requires probable cause, announcing that it joins those Circuits “that have held that reasonable belief in the Payton context ‘embodies the same standard of reasonableness inherent in probable cause.’” Id. The Court was persuaded by the fact that the Supreme Court had often equated the terms “reason to believe” with “probable cause.” Id. Also, the Court reasoned that interpreting “reason to believe” to mean something less than probable cause would enable police to enter multiple residences based on mere suspicion that the suspect of an arrest warrant was located within, and this would be an end-run around the Fourth Amendment’s special protections afforded a private home. Steagald.

Applying the foregoing principles to the current case, the Court stated that “the police needed to have probable cause to believe that Brinkley resided [at the Stoney Trace apartment] and would be present when they entered.” The Court noted that when assessing probable cause, it considers the totality of the circumstances. Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (2013). Both the “quantity and quality” of information known to the police are evaluated when assessing whether there was probable cause. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990).

The Court explained that the police’s information must have been sufficient for a person of reasonable prudence to believe Brinkley resided at the apartment and that he would be present at the time of the arrest. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690 (1996). The Court concluded that because the police admitted that they were uncertain as to Brinkley’s current residence and went to the apartment of his girlfriend to check if he was there, they did not have probable cause to believe the apartment was his residence. Further, even if they knew the apartment was his current residence, they did not have probable cause to believe he was present within the apartment. It was 8:30 a.m., and police had not determined if Brinkley was at work. And Chisholm’s nervous actions, at most, might indicate that someone was in the bedroom – but not necessarily Brinkley.

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United States v. Brinkley



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