On January 13, 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided White v. State[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to in-home warrantless arrests and the admissibility of subsequent statements to police. The relevant facts of White, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
On October 16, 2016, Christian Poss called police to report that his 18-year-old son Samuel was missing. Three days later, after receiving reports pointing to White as a suspect, and without first obtaining an arrest warrant, police arrested White in the doorway of his home. After 17-year-old White arrived at the police station, he waived his Miranda rights and submitted to an interview. During the interview, White confessed that he and Brandon Warren had killed Samuel. White then led detectives to Samuel’s body.
In his confession, played for the jury at trial, White said that he and Warren had entered into a suicide pact. White reported that he and Warren wanted to know what it was like to kill someone else before they killed themselves. White proposed that they kill his friend Samuel, because he would be an “easy” victim. In the early morning hours of October 15, 2016, White asked Samuel to come to White’s house to help with a computer problem. Samuel agreed, and White and Warren picked up Samuel in White’s car and drove to White’s Houston County home. Before Samuel could exit the car in White’s driveway, White strangled Samuel, and Warren stabbed him. White and Warren left Samuel’s body in a creek bed and disposed of other incriminating evidence.[ii]“
White was charged with malice murder and the statements that he made at the police station were admitted at trial. White was convicted by a jury and subsequently appealed various issues to the Supreme Court of Georgia. The issue that we will discuss concerns the admissibility of White’s statement that occurred at the police station after his arrest.
On appeal, White argued that he was arrested in violation of the Fourth Amendment because when the police came to his residence to arrest him, one of the officers reached his arm past the threshold of the residence door before White exited the residence and was arrested. White argued that, when the officer crossed the threshold with his arm, the arrest was rendered a violation of the United States Supreme Court case, Payton v. New York,[iii] in which the Court held that
[T]he Fourth Amendment generally prohibits police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect’s home to make a routine felony arrest.[iv]
The Supreme Court of Georgia stated that they “have doubts” that White’s arrest complied with the Fourth Amendment. However, they also stated that even if the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment, they agree with the trial court that the statement made by White did not need to be suppressed due to a potential Payton violation.
The court reasoned that the evidence did not need to be suppressed because all of the precedent cited by White on appeal were cases that involved statements that occurred after warrantless, in-home arrests where there was no probable cause to make an arrest.[v] The court then noted that the police, in the case at hand, had probable cause to arrest White. The court described the applicable legal principal as follows:
[W]here the police have probable cause to arrest a suspect, the exclusionary rule does not bar the State’s use of a statement made by the defendant outside of his home, even though the statement is taken after an arrest made in the home in violation of Payton.” New York v. Harris, 495 U. S. 14, 18-21 (110 SCt 1640, 109 LE2d 13) (1990); see also Almodovar v. State, 289 Ga. 494, 497 (3) (713 SE2d 373) (2011); Stinski v. State, 281 Ga. 783, 785 (2) (b) (642 SE2d 1) (2007).[vi]
In other words, if the police violate Payton by making a warrantless, in-home arrest and later they obtain a statement outside the home, such as at the police station, the exclusionary rule does not require suppression of that statement under the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” as long as their was probable cause to arrest the suspect. White did not dispute the probable cause to arrest him and did not allege that he was interrogated in his residence; rather he was interrogated at the police station.
As such, the court held White’s statement was admissible.
[i] S19A1004 (Ga. January 13, 2020)
[iii] 445 U.S. 573 (1980)
[iv] White at 6 (See Payton, 445 U.S. 573, 576)
[v] Id. at 6 (see See Taylor v. Alabama, 457 U. S. 687 (102 SCt 2664, 73 LE2d 314) (1982); Dunaway v. NewYork, 442 U. S. 200 (99 SCt 2248, 60 LE2d 824) (1979); Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590 (95 SCt 2254, 45 LE2d 416) (1975).
[vi] Id. at 7