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Fourth Amendment Violation If Guest Lets DEA Agents in?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that searches and seizures within a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable. LaLonde v. Cnty. of Riverside (9th Cir. 2000) 204 F. 3d 947, 954 (quoting Payton v. New York (1980) 445 U.S. 576, 586.
Brief Synopsis:  A house guest’s permission for police to enter into a house, when the house guest steps back only so far as to allow police to enter a foyer, is not consent for the police to search the entire house.
A search following consent, however, is an exception to the warrant requirement. United States v. Russell (9th Cir. 2012) 664 F. 3d 1279, 1281.  Such consent, however, cannot be inferred by police. United States v. Reid (9th Cir. 2000) 226 F. 3d 1020, 1025.

When consent is from someone other than the home owner, police must show that the owner expressly authorized a third party to give consent to the search.  United States v. Welch (9th Cir., 1993) 4 F. 3d 761, at 764.

image descriptionU.S. District Court Riverside

If express authorization is not given, the government may establish consent by showing there was apparent consent.  The government proves this by showing that the officers who conducted the search reasonably believed that the person from whom they obtained consent had the actual authority to grant the consent. Welch, supra, p. 764.  To evaluate this, the court must evaluate whether the officer’s belief in actual authority was objectively reasonable.

The court, to evaluate if the apparent authority was objectively reasonable, must consider the consent given and all the surrounding circumstances available to the officer at the moment. Illinois v. Rodriguez (1990) 497 U.S. 177, 188.

In the case of United States v. Omar Arreguin, nine law enforcement officers, including two DEA agents, conducted a “knock and talk” investigation at a Riverside home.  A house guest, Ellias Valencia, Jr., answered the door.  The detectives described Valencia as “sleepy – looking.”

The house had a front door and then a foyer area that extended seven or eight feet into the residence.  Beyond the foyer, there was a living room and a family room.  Beyond that area, there was the master bedroom and then, from the bedroom, oddly, there were two doors leading directly to the garage.

When officers arrived, they testified, they did not “know exactly who resided” at the residence.  When Valencia answered the door, officers could see Defendant Arreguin standing inside the house, holding a shoebox.  They then saw him walk away and return into view without the shoebox.

Officers then asked Valencia, the house guest, if they could come in.  Valencia, stepped back a few feet into the foyer and agreed.  Police than quickly “rushed” by Valencia.  Within 30 seconds, officers testified, they were through the living room and searching the master bedroom.

Once inside the bedroom, officers seized an open shoebox containing a white powdery substance.  Officers then threatened Defendant Arreguin with adverse immigration consequences unless he consented to a further search of the home.  Arreguin then signed a consent form and officers searched a car inside the garage with bricks of methamphetamine taped inside it.

In U.S. District Court, Arrequin filed a motion to suppress the methamphetamine evidence, arguing that officers lacked proper consent for the warrantless search.  The Riverside area district court denied the motion and Arrequin appealed the ruling up to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In U.S. v. Omar Arreguin (2014 DJDAR 15349), the United States Court of Appeals reversed, suppressing the evidence.  The Court of Appeals found that Valencia, the house guest, did not consent to such a search.  Officers asked if they could come into the house, which had a large foyer.  Valencia said yes, but stepped back into the foyer. He did not step to the side, as if to consent to a search of the house.  In other words, the officers’ belief was not reasonable that Valencia’s consent was based on the consent of the home owner.  The officers also did not even ask to search the house, or in specific, a search of any area of the house.

image description
The permission to enter the house was reasonably limited to the foyer area only.  Thus, Arreguin’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated and the appeals court remanded the case to the trial court to grant the motion.  This meant the case would most likely be dismissed for insufficiency of the evidence.

The citation for the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling discussed above is United States v. Omar Arreguin (9th Cir., 2013) 735 F.3d 1168.

For more information about search and seizure issues, click on the following articles:
  1. Suspected Ecstasy Drug Trafficker Successfully Challenges Search of His House Based on Faulty Search Warrant Affidavit
  2. Warrantless Search of FedEx Package Containing Marijuana Held Improper and Case Dismissed
  3. Insufficient Affidavit for Warrant Does Not Mean Search Is Always Invalid

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