On September 16, 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Andino [i], which serves as an excellent review of the law pertaining to warrantless home entry based on destruction of evidence and the plain view doctrine. The relevant facts of Andino, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
At approximately 8 p.m. on August 29, 2011, officers and agents assigned to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) Task Force in Buffalo, New York, arrested Anderson Montanez and Thurman Artis. Montanez was defendant-appellee Andino’s boyfriend; they lived together in a house on Norfolk Avenue in Buffalo with their two children.
Montanez and Artis were arrested for their involvement in a series of controlled sales of cocaine to an informant cooperating with the Task Force. Montanez and Artis had traveled together to several locations to pick up cocaine and then traveled back to the area near the Norfolk Avenue home to conclude the sales. At the time of Montanez’s arrest, police recovered cocaine from his pocket.
After his arrest, Montanez was brought to the DEA office and questioned by DEA agents. He told the agents that he had “a couple” of ounces of cocaine inside of a book bag at his house on Norfolk Avenue. Montanez said he was concerned about Andino being arrested and the agents explained that “[they] would like to just go to the house, retrieve the cocaine[,] and that would be it.” J.A. 58. Montanez provided the officers a written consent to search the residence and told them Andino would know where the cocaine was located.
At approximately 11 p.m., a team consisting of federal and local law enforcement personnel wearing DEA vests and windbreakers arrived at Andino’s house. Some of the officers, including DEA Special Agent Brian Chella, approached the front door of the house. Other officers went to the side of the house where there was a side entrance, driveway, and a window. Task Force Officer Kerry Jones stood by the side window, while DEA Special Agent David Leary was by the side door.
After agents knocked and rang the doorbell, Andino opened the inner door at the front entry. At that point Agent Chella identified himself, and informed Andino that Montanez had been arrested by the DEA, had told the agents there was cocaine in the house, and had given consent to search the house and seize the cocaine. Andino asked to see a copy of the consent to search form, but as another officer held it up to show her she slammed the door shut. Agent Chella heard Andino running away from the door. Officer Jones then heard a faucet begin to run in the kitchen and drawers being opened and closed, prompting him to yell to the other officers that “drugs or evidence” was being destroyed. J.A. 123. Agent Chella then made his way to the side of the house where he “also heard the kitchen sink.” J.A. 62.
Believing that Andino was in the process of destroying the cocaine, officers attempted to open the side and front doors, but were unable to do so. Agent Chella entered the home by removing a window air conditioning unit in the first floor living room and entering through the window. He saw two children sleeping on a couch. Andino then emerged from the kitchen and entered the living room. Agent Chella directed her to open the front door to allow the rest of the search team to enter, which she did.
Upon entering through the front door, two DEA agents remained with Andino and her two children in the living room while Agent Chella and another officer conducted a protective sweep of the upstairs in an effort to secure the house. Others in the search team, including Officer Jones, went into the kitchen where the faucet was still running. in turning the faucet off, Officer Jones discovered and seized a plastic baggie in the sink containing a milky white residue. The bag and its contents were subsequently submitted for analysis that confirmed the residue was cocaine. Andino was placed under arrest at the scene. [ii]
Andino filed a motion to suppress which was granted by the district court. The district court held that the initial entry to detain Andino was reasonable based on exigent circumstances; however, they held that the subsequent search of the kitchen sink was not reasonable because securing Andino ended the threat of destruction of evidence. The government appealed the grant of the motion to suppress.
At the outset, the court stated:
It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment must yield” where “exigent circumstances require law enforcement officers to act without delay.” Marin Moreno, 701 F.3d at 72-73 (internal quotation marks omitted). “‘[T]he need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence has long been recognized as a sufficient justification for a warrantless search.'” Id. at 73 (quoting Kentucky v. King, 131 S. Ct. 1849, 1856 (2011)). [iii]
The court further stated:
The core question is whether the facts, as they appeared at the moment of entry, would lead a reasonable, experienced officer to believe that there was an urgent need to render aid or take action.” United States v. Klump, 536 F.3d 113, 117-18 (2d Cir. 2008) [iv]
The court also noted that the scope of the search must be limited to achieving the purpose that justified the entry. As such, the issue before the court was:
[W]hether securing Andino ended the exigency such that the search of the kitchen exceeded that exigency. [v]
The court then examined the facts relevant to this issue. First, the officers knew, based on Montanez’s statement, that there was cocaine in the residence with Andino. Second, when agents attempted to show Andino Montanez’s consent to search form, she slammed the door shut on the agents, and they heard running, drawers opening, and water running. These are sounds indicative of the destruction of evidence. Third, once agents made entry into the residence they heard water running in the kitchen sink. Therefore, the court held it was reasonable for the agents to go to the sink and turn off the water to prevent further destruction of evidence.
The court then addressed whether the seizure of the plastic baggie with the white paste, which later tested positive as cocaine, from the sink was reasonable. The court stated:
The “plain view” doctrine is another well-recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, Ruggiero v. Krzeminski, 928 F.2d 558, 561-62 (2d Cir. 1991), whereby “law enforcement personnel may seize an item without a warrant provided that it is immediately apparent that the object is connected with criminal activity, and further provided that the officers viewed the object from a lawful vantage point — i.e., that the officers have not violated the Fourth Amendment in arriving at the place from where they can see the object,” United States v. $557,933.89, More or Less, in U.S. Funds, 287 F.3d 66, 81 (2d Cir. 2002). [vi]
Here, the court held that since the agents had a lawful vantage point due to their properly acting on the “destruction of evidence” exception to the warrant requirement, it was lawful for them to seize the baggie under the “plain view doctrine” because they had probable cause to believe it contained contraband.
As such, the court of appeals reversed the grant of the motion to suppress and remanded the case back to the district court.
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] No. 13-3329-cr (2nd Cir. Decided September 16, 2014)
[ii] Id. at 4-8
[iii] Id. at 12
[iv] Id. at 13
[v] Id. at 15
[vi] Id. at 17