On February 24, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Jones[i], which serves as an excellent review regarding the law related to entry into private premises to execute an arrest warrant. The facts of Jones are as follows:
On August 21, 2018, Rick Stevens, a bail bondsman, notified Woodward County Sheriff’s Deputy Caleb Merriman that defendant Scott Allen Jones was living in a shop located at 3415 Eighth Street, Woodward, Oklahoma, and was presently there. There were two outstanding arrest warrants for Mr. Jones, one for failing to appear at a hearing on a charge of driving with a suspended license and another for failing to appear at a hearing on a charge of assault and battery. Mr. Stevens did not disclose the source of his information to Deputy Merriman but indicated he was familiar with Mr. Jones and his girlfriend, Ashton Chavez, because he had been their bail bondsman for years. Mr. Stevens was also a known informant who had previously provided Deputy Merriman with reliable information about the location of other people. Based on this tip, Deputy Merriman contacted Special Agents Kent Brown and Keith Frutiger of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) and others to ask for their assistance in arresting Mr. Jones.
Before he was contacted by Deputy Merriman, Special Agent Brown already believed that Mr. Jones was living at the Woodward property. From multiple prior witness and victim interviews, he knew of several individuals who had been taken by Mr. Jones and others to the shop on the Woodward property, where they had then been tied up, beaten, assaulted, maimed, and stabbed. Also, by reviewing recordings from a continuously operating CCTV pole camera located approximately 150 yards from the Woodward property, Special Agent Brown had noticed Mr. Jones regularly going in and out of the shop, changing his outfits while inside, and receiving deliveries. So when Deputy Merriman called on August 21, 2018, Special Agent Brown confirmed that the FBI believed Mr. Jones was living at the shop.
Shortly thereafter, Deputy Merriman, Special Agent Brown, Mr. Stevens, and others went to the Woodward property and arrested Mr. Jones. While conducting a protective sweep, Deputy Merriman saw a gun wedged between couch cushions. He then obtained a search warrant and collected the gun.[ii]
Jones was indicted by a federal grand jury for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He filed a motion to suppress and argued that the police needed a search warrant to enter the location where they arrested him because (1) the location was owned by his grandfather, and (2) the police did not have a reasonable belief that he lived at that location. The district denied his motion, and he was convicted by a jury. He subsequently appealed the denial of his motion to suppress to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, Jones argued that, since the shop where he was arrested was owned by his grandfather, the deputy was required to obtain a search warrant before entering the property to arrest him.
The court of appeals first examined two Supreme Court cases that set the constitutional framework for Jones’s case. First, in Payton v. New York[iii], the Supreme Court held
[A]n arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.[iv]
Second, in Steagald v. United States[v], the Supreme Court held that
[A]bsent exigent circumstances or consent, officers could not search a third party’s home for the subject of an arrest warrant without first obtaining a search warrant.[vi]
Thus, based on Payton, the police can enter a residence without consent to serve an arrest warrant if two conditions are met. First, the residence entered must be where the suspect is residing. Second, the police must have a reasonable belief that the suspect is present at the time the police enter the residence.
Further, based on Steagald, if the suspect does not reside at the residence the police seek to enter under an arrest warrant, the police must obtain a search warrant (or consent) to enter that residence.
On appeal, Jones argued (1) the facts available to the deputy did not support a reasonable belief that Jones was living at the shop, and (2) the facts did not support a reasonable belief that he was present at the shop when the police entered to serve the warrant.
The court of appeals then set out to determine if the two-pronged test from Payton was satisfied in Jones’s case. Thus, they must determine if the deputy had a reasonable belief (1) that Jones lived in the shop and (2) that he was within the shop when the police entered.
The court first examined a Tenth Circuit case, the United States v. Gay.[vii] In Gay, an informant told the police, face-to-face, that Gay was involved in criminal activity. The informant also provided Gay’s address based on personal knowledge, accompanied the officers to the residence, and remained to be held accountable if the tip was false. The court of appeals noted that this was very similar to the facts of Jones’s case. In Jones’s case, the bail bondsman, who had previously provided accurate information in locating wanted persons, told the deputy that Jones was residing at the shop, accompanied the deputy to the location, and could have been held accountable for false information. The court of appeals also noted that the bail bondsman’s information, like a citizen-caller, is generally presumed accurate unless there is reason to suspect that the information is inaccurate. Specifically, the court stated
The veracity of identified private citizen informants (as opposed to paid or professional criminal informants) is generally presumed in the absence of special circumstances suggesting that they should not be trusted.[viii]
Additionally, the deputy contacted FBI Special Agent Brown, and he confirmed that they also had reason to believe that Jones was residing at the shop.
Therefore, the court of appeals held that the deputy had an objectively reasonable belief that Jones was living at the property they entered to serve his arrest warrants. This satisfied the first prong of the Payton analysis.
The court also examined whether the deputy had a reasonable belief that Jones was present at the time they entered the shop to serve his arrest warrants. The court stated that since the bail bondsman told the deputy that Jones was present at the shop, accompanied him to the shop, and was present to be held accountable if the tip was fabricated, this satisfied the second prong of the Payton test by providing a reasonable belief that Jones was present.
As such, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.
[i] No. 19-6182 (10th Cir. Decided February 24, 2021 Unpublished)
[ii] Id. at 1-3
[iii] 445 U.S. 573 (1980)
[iv] Jones at 4 (quoting Payton, 445 U.S. at 603)(emphasis added)
[v] 451 U.S. 204 (1981)
[vi] Jones at 4-5 (quoting Steagald, 451 U.S. at 205-206)(emphasis added)
[vii] 240 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir. 2001)