On August 23, 2021, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided Morency v. City of Allentown[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to false arrest. The relevant facts of Morency, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
On June 14, 2018, Michael noticed two boys kicking a soccer ball, repeatedly hitting his car. The boys were both neighbors, one was the son of Hector Sanchez, who lived down the street. Michael ordered the boys to stay off his property, but rather than leave, the boys kicked the ball at Michael’s car one last time. The ball then landed in a bush in front of the Morencys’ porch. Hector Sanchez’s son and Michael attempted to retrieve the ball at the same time, causing them to run into one another.
Hector Sanchez’s son returned home upset by the incident and told his father what had happened. Hector Sanchez decided to confront Michael and went to the Morencys’ home to speak with him. While several neighborhood children were present, the two men had a brief conversation. Michael claims that during this conversation, Sanchez approached him in a threatening manner, causing Michael to draw a firearm and point it at the ground. Michael told Sanchez to leave his property, which he did, taking his children with him.
After the incident, Sanchez called 911. Allentown Police Officers Eric Blood and Matthew Diehl responded and spoke with Sanchez and his son. Sanchez claimed his son told him that Michael had pushed him to the ground twice during their incident, and he described Michael’s firearm as a small chrome revolver. Officer Diehl searched the state firearm registry and confirmed that Michael owned a .38 caliber revolver. Officer Diehl also confirmed that the vehicle Sanchez’s children identified as Michael’s was registered to him. The officers attempted to speak with Michael about the incident, but he declined to leave his house to talk to them.
After returning to the station that evening, Officer Blood completed an arrest warrant application and an affidavit of probable cause. Based on these documents, Assistant District Attorney Diane Markovitz approved charging Michael with two counts of simple assault and one count of disorderly conduct. The affidavit and warrant application were presented to Magisterial District Judge Patricia M. Engler the following day, June 15, with Officer Blood appearing before the judge to swear to its contents.
Around the same time that day, Sergeant Robert Flores, who learned about the previous day’s events from officers Diehl and Blood at a morning meeting at the police station, conducted surveillance of the Morencys’ home. He saw Michael leave in his car, and pulled him over, advising him he was being detained in connection with the previous day’s incident. Seven minutes after the initial stop, Sergeant Flores learned via his radio that a warrant for Michael’s arrest had been issued, and another officer arrived to take him into custody.
One of Michael’s bail conditions was that he not reside in a home with firearms. The arraigning judge requested that Officers Blood and Diehl facilitate the removal of any firearms in the Morencys’ home. Before doing so, Officer Diehl testified that he contacted a district attorney, who told him that he could lawfully search the Morencys’ home with the consent of an adult occupant. The same day Michael was arrested, Officers Diehl and Blood went to the Morencys’ home and asked permission from Roueth to search for her husband’s firearms. Officers Blood and Diehl both testified that Roueth consented to the search of the home. The officers found two firearms during their search. They left the weapons for her to secure, and testified that they did not take anything from the home. The charges against Michael were dismissed at a preliminary hearing.[ii]
The Morency’s subsequently filed suit in federal court and argued that Officer Blood, Sergeant Flores, and the City of Allentown violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Morency’s appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Morency’s sued Officer Blood for malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment. Regarding these claims, the court stated
To prevail on all three of his claims against Officer Blood, Michael must demonstrate an absence of probable cause. Probable cause exists “when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer’s knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested.” “A ‘common sense’ approach [must be taken] to the issue of probable cause and a determination as to its existence must be based on the ‘totality of the circumstances.[iii]
The court of appeals examined the Pennsylvania statutes under which Michael Morency was charged, particularly simple assault and disorderly conduct. The court held that the statements of Sanchez and his son, and other witnesses provided probable cause to believe that Michael had committed these offenses. As such, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Officer Blood.
Officer Blood told Sergeant Flores about the incident with Morency, and that he was applying for a warrant. Sergeant Flores went to Morency’s residence to conduct surveillance. He observed Morency enter his vehicle and begin to drive away. Sergeant Flores conducted a traffic stop and detained Morency until he received word that the warrant had been granted, at which time Morency was arrested.
The court of appeals held that Sergeant Flores had, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Morency while he waited for the warrant. Further, when he received word the warrant was obtained, he had another officer arrest Morency. Additionally, the court of appeals held that the information provided to Sergeant Flores by Officer Blood actually provided him with probable cause to stop and arrest Morency.
Therefore, since Sergeant Flores had reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause for the stop and probable cause after he was told the warrant was obtained, the claims against him fail, and the court of appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the sergeant.
Search of the House for Weapons conducted by Officers Blood and Diehl
The Morency’s argued that Roueth did not provide the officers with valid consent to search their house for weapons. The court stated
Although “[t]he Fourth Amendment generally prohibits the warrantless entry of a person’s home,” this prohibition does not apply “to situations in which voluntary consent has been obtained, either from the individual whose property is searched, or from a third party who possesses common authority over the premises.” As to whether the consent was voluntary, there is no “talismanic definition of ‘voluntariness,'” and so we must consider the totality of the circumstances. These include the age, intelligence and education of the person giving consent, whether they were advised of their constitutional rights, and whether any questioning preceding the consent was repeated and prolonged. No one factor is dispositive. The Government bears “the burden of proving that the consent was, in fact, freely and voluntarily given.[iv]
Roueth first argued that she was confused when she gave consent. The court found no evidence that indicated that she did not realize what she was doing or under duress. The court explained
There is nothing in the record to suggest that Roueth’s age, intelligence or education would in any way contribute to a lack of understanding of what she was consenting to. The officers did not subject her to prolonged questioning, and Roueth testified that their demeanor was normal and not loud or aggressive. They also spoke to Roueth at her home, a place where she was comfortable, and officers did not engage in any questioning designed to incriminate her. Although the officers did not inform Roueth of her ability to withhold her consent, she testified that she was present at the house the previous day when Michael rebuffed the same officers’ request to talk to him, and therefore was likely aware of her ability to do so.
Roueth also claimed her consent was involuntary because the officers told her that her husband could not return home while he possessed firearms. However, her husband also called her and told her the same thing. Additionally, she had already recovered one gun and put it on the table for the police.
Thus, the court of appeals held that Roueth gave free and voluntary consent and affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the officers.
[i] No. 20-3469 (3rd Cir. Decided August 23, 2021 Unpublished)
[ii] Id. at 2-4
[iii] Id. at 6 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 10-11 (emphasis added)