Knock and talks are often used by law enforcement officers to attempt to further an investigation where information immediately known may be short of probable cause. On February 10, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Crisolis-Gonzalez [i], which serves as an excellent review regarding many aspects of a knock and talk. The facts of Crisolis-Gonzalez are as follows:
During his investigation of a series of drug trafficking cases in St. Joseph, Missouri, Special Agent Jose Covarrubias of Homeland Security Investigations received information from a confidential informant that Crisolis-Gonzalez had entered the country illegally, was involved in trafficking methamphetamine, and had possibly purchased a firearm. As a result of receiving this information, two special agents were assigned to conduct surveillance of the apartment complex where Crisolis-Gonzalez was believed to be staying. At the complex, the agents located a vehicle they believed belonged to Crisolis-Gonzalez and informed Agent Covarrubias. Agent Covarrubias and another special agent joined the other two at the complex in order to conduct a “knock and talk,” intending to obtain further information about Crisolis-Gonzalez.
Agent Covarrubias approached the apartment believed to house Crisolis-Gonzalez and knocked on the door. Mr. Reyes-Savedra, boyfriend and roommate of one of the lessees, opened the door, and Agent Covarrubias asked, in Spanish, if he could come in to speak with him. Reyes-Savedra agreed and stepped aside to let the agents in. Upon entering the apartment, the agents noticed a baby and a woman, later identified as Crisolis-Gonzalez’s girlfriend, Yuliet Lara-Andres, in the kitchen. Agent Covarrubias then asked if anyone else was in the home. Neither Reyes-Savedra nor Lara-Andres answered. After being asked again, Reyes-Savedra paused and turned his head slightly towards the hallway.
Interpreting Reyes-Savedra’s hesitance and slight head turn as indicating that other people were in the house, the agents drew their guns and informed Reyes-Savedra and Lara-Andres that they were going to check the apartment for other people. While walking down the hall, the agents yelled “police, police” in Spanish. Crisolis-Gonzalez came out of a bedroom with his hands up. Crisolis-Gonzalez was handcuffed and taken to the living room. Agents also found another individual, later identified as Mr. Ocampo-Ocampo, whom they also handcuffed.
Agent Covarrubias questioned everyone as to their names and immigration status. Crisolis-Gonzalez admitted he was in the country illegally. Agent Covarrubias then requested consent to search the apartment. Crisolis-Gonzalez asked what they were looking for, and Agent Covarrubias told him they were looking for any fraudulent documents, guns, large amounts of cash, and drugs. Crisolis-Gonzalez then stated that he had a gun under his mattress. Two of the agents went to the bedroom to make sure the gun was not loaded but did not seize the gun at that time. Agent Covarrubias again requested consent to search. Crisolis-Gonzalez asked what would happen if he refused, and Agent Covarrubias responded that he would attempt to get a search warrant. Agent Covarrubias handed each resident a consent-to-search form written in Spanish and read it to them. Crisolis-Gonzalez read the form and signed. Lara-Andres also signed the form. Ocampo-Ocampo and Reyes-Savedra declined to consent at that time.
The agents then searched Crisolis-Gonzalez’s bedroom and discovered drugs, drug paraphernalia, cash, and an illegitimate social security card in the closet. Agent Covarrubias obtained a Miranda-warnings form and read the form to Crisolis-Gonzalez. Crisolis-Gonzalez signed the form and agreed to speak with Agent Covarrubias. Crisolis-Gonzalez was taken to the Platte County Jail where he signed the Miranda-warnings form again after being advised of his Miranda rights a second time. Agent Covarrubias then began questioning Crisolis-Gonzalez about the discovered drugs and contraband. [ii]
Crisolis-Gonzalez was subsequently indicted for federal crimes. He filed a motion to suppress which was largely denied by the district court, except for the suppression of his pre-Miranda statement about his immigration status (see Part II of this article for a discussion). Crisolis-Gonzalez appealed the denial of the motion to suppress to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Part one of this article will discuss issues involving the agent’s entry into the apartment and the protective sweep of the apartment.
The first main issue before the court was whether the entry into the apartment was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This was broken down into two separate issues. The first was whether the officers gained entry into apartment by false pretenses. In particular, Crisolis-Gonzalez argued that the agent’s request to enter the apartment to speak to Reyes-Sevedra was misleading because they really wanted to speak to him. The court first stated:
Indeed, “‘[m]isrepresentations about the nature of an investigation may be evidence of coercion'” and can certainly “invalidate the consent if the consent was given in reliance on the officer’s deceit.” United States v. Briley, 726 F.2d 1301, 1304 (8th Cir. 1984) (quoting United States v. Turpin, 707 F.2d 332, 334 (8th Cir. 1983); see also United States v. Kelly, 329 F.3d 624, 629 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Briley, 726 F.2d at 1304). However, we do not require officers to “‘gratuitously advertis[e] [their] every move to anyone [they] might encounter.'” Briley, 726 F.2d at 1305 (second and third alterations in original) (quoting In re Anthony F., 442 A.2d 975, 980 (Md. 1982)). [iii]
Applying the facts of the case with the rule above, the court first stated that requesting to speak to Reyes-Sevedra was consistent with the overall goal of locating Crisolis-Gonzalez. Further, Reyes-Sevedra did not ask the agents for any further explanation of their purpose. As such, the court held that no misrepresentation occurred.
The second issue regarding entry into the apartment was whether Reyes-Savedra had common authority over the premises such that he could consent to the agent’s entry. The court stated:
Consent to enter or search the premises “may be given by a ‘third party who possessed common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected.'” United States v. Hilliard, 490 F.3d 635, 639 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974)). [iv]
Apply the facts of the case to the rule above, the court noted that Reyes-Savedra shared a bedroom in the apartment with his girlfriend and her name was on the lease. As such, he had sufficient common authority over the premises to consent to entry into the apartment.
The second main issue before the court of appeals was whether the protective sweep of the apartment violated the Fourth Amendment. The rule regarding protective sweeps is as follows:
A protective sweep is permitted under the Fourth Amendment when an officer has “‘articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.'” United States v. Cisneros-Gutierrez, 598 F.3d 997, 1006 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 334 (1990)).
In Maryland v. Buie, the Supreme Court case in which the court authorized such protective sweeps, officers conducting the sweep had made an arrest in Buie’s residence. As such, the issue regarding the protective sweep in Crisolis-Gonzalez’s case was whether the protective sweep was valid under the Fourth Amendment even though, when it was done, it was not in conjunction with an in-home arrest. Regarding this issue, the court stated:
Protective sweeps need not always occur in conjunction with an arrest. See id. In Cisneros-Gutierrez, we upheld the sweep in the absence of an arrest because under the circumstances, a “reasonable officer could conclude that it was necessary for his safety to secure the premises before obtaining a warrant.” Id. at 1006. In that case, the officers had been informed that the defendants possessed illegal narcotics and firearms, and when the officers arrived on the premises, they observed the defendants’ evasive and suspicious behavior. Id. at 1007. In light of those facts, we concluded that “[t]here was a reasonable possibility that other individuals were in the home, posing a danger to the officers.” Id. at 1006-07. [v]
The court then applied the facts of this case to the holding above and noted in Crisolis-Gonzalez’s case, they had information that he was involved in illegal drugs and may have purchased a firearm. Further, both Lara-Andres and Reyes-Savedra hesitated when asked if other people were home and Reyes-Savedra gave a slight head turn to the hallway when asked about other people. The court then held that these facts were sufficient to provide the agents with a reasonable belief that the apartment harbored other people that posed a danger to the agents. As such, the protective sweep was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.
[Part II of this article will discuss the admissibility of statements and the validity of the consent to search.]
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. 12-3807 (8th Cir. 2014)
[ii] Id. at 2-4
[iii] Id. at 5
[iv] Id. at 6
[v] Id. at 7