On July 31, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Sabo [i] which instructive regarding consent to enter private premises. The facts of Sabo are as follows:
In January 2010, two Deputy U.S. Marshals knocked on Terry Sabo’s trailer door hoping to locate a fugitive, Sabo’s stepson. When Sabo opened the door, both deputies immediately noticed a strong odor of marijuana and heard voices coming from inside the trailer. Sabo acknowledged that his children were inside but denied that his stepson was there. The deputies asked Sabo if he was “smoking dope” with his children in the trailer, to which Sabo responded, “Get the fuck out of here.” With that expletive, Sabo slammed the door shut. The deputies backed away from the trailer, moved their car out of sight, and called the local Sheriff’s office for assistance. Detective Donald McCune—who knew Sabo—was among the officers that arrived.
McCune knocked on the trailer door and said, “Terry, it’s the Sheriff’s Department. Open the door.” Sabo opened the door and stood in the doorway, physically blocking McCune’s entry. McCune asked, “Terry, do you mind if I step inside and talk with you?” Sabo said nothing. Instead, he stepped back and to the side and let the door open. The conversation was casual and McCune did not force his way into the trailer.
Upon Sabo yielding the right of way, McCune entered the trailer and immediately noticed the same odor of marijuana and saw several guns leaning against a wall. Knowing that Sabo was a convicted felon, McCune had him sit on the couch while the guns were secured. McCune’s fellow officers swept the trailer looking for the fugitive but found only Sabo’s wife and children. McCune obtained a search warrant and seized marijuana in the subsequent search. [ii]
Sabo was charged with various federal drug and weapons offenses. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence which was denied by the district court. Sabo entered a guilty plea with the right to appeal. He then filed a timely appeal with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The issue on appeal was whether Sabo’s non-verbal actions at the door constituted valid consent for the agent’s to enter his residence.
The court first noted that voluntary consent is an exception to the warrant requirement of Fourth Amendment. The court also noted that a person does not automatically consent to law enforcement entry into their home every time they answer the door. However, in this case, the court noted that Sabo did not merely open the door. Actually, in response to the agent request to enter or come inside, Sabo stepped back and to the side. The court held that this act was sufficient to show that he impliedly consent to the agent’s entry into his residence. Specifically, the court stated
Here, however, Sabo did not simply answer the door. He stepped back and to the side so that McCune could enter. What is more, Sabo’s actions came in direct response to McCune’s request to enter. In other words, McCune asked and Sabo answered, albeit nonverbally. We have recently noted that “this court, on more than one occasion, has found that the act of opening a door and stepping back to allow entry is sufficient to demonstrate consent.” Harney, 702 F.3d at 925 (citing United States v. Walls, 225 F.3d 858, 862–63 (7th Cir.2000) and Sparing v. Vill. of Olympia Fields, 266 F.3d 684, 690 (7th Cir.2001)). We make the same finding here—Sabo’s nonverbal cue manifested his implied consent for McCune to enter. [iii]
Therefore, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress. Since the weapons were observed from a lawful vantage point via voluntary consent, they were properly admissible as evidence.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
[i] 12-2700, (7th Cir. 2013)