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Media Alerts - United States of America v. Joseph Vincent White - Third Circuit
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April 16, 2014
  United States of America v. Joseph Vincent White - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Finds that Police Cannot Arrest Suspect Outside of His Home and Then Conduct Warrantless Search of His Home

Area of Law: Constitutional Law - Fourth Amendment

Issues Presented: Whether it is correct to apply the analysis of Maryland v. Buie's "prong 1" related to a search incident to an arrest outside of the home?

Brief Summary: Joseph Vincent White ("Appellant") was arrested outside of his home after a domestic disturbance call. After police officers arrived on the scene they asked his daughter, the victim of the domestic disturbance, if there was anyone else in the home. Even though she said there was not, one of the officers, Trooper Hoban, decided he would check for himself. When he went into the home, he saw two guns lying on the floor, just inside the threshold; he seized the weapons. Weeks later, after obtaining a search warrant based in part on the two firearms Trooper Hoban found, police discovered an additional 91 firearms in the home. A grand jury subsequently indicted Appellant for unlawful possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony. Appellant then moved to exclude from evidence the firearms found in his home on the grounds that they were the result of an illegal search. The District Court denied the suppression motion based on the Supreme Court's decision in Maryland v. Buie. In Buie the Supreme Court found that a search of a house without a warrant issued on probable cause is generally unreasonable. However, there are several exceptions to the warrant requirement. In Buie, the Supreme Court articulated two of them: (1) warrantless search of a home incident to an arrest occurring in the home, provided that the search is limited to those places immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be immediately launched, and; (2) a warrantless search of a home based on reasonable and articulable suspicion that the areas being searched may harbor an individual who poses a danger to those present at the scene of the arrest. The District Court found that Trooper Hoban's warrantless search of Appellant's home was a limited permissible search incident to arrest under the first prong of Buie, and therefore did not require probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The Third Circuit, however, found that because Appellant was arrested outside of his home, the District Court's analysis under the first prong of Buie was inapplicable. The Court noted that its ruling was consistent with prior Third Circuit precedent and with holdings of other federal courts of appeals. The Third Circuit then vacated the trial court's decision and remanded the case for consideration as to whether the second prong of Buie or the "exigent circumstances" doctrine could justify the warrantless search at issue.

Significance (if any):

Extended Summary: Joseph Vincent White ("Appellant") was arrested outside of his home after a domestic disturbance call. On April 12, 2012 police were called to Appellant's residence. Appellant's daughter's boyfriend called the police stating that Appellant was waving a loaded firearm around and dragging his daughter from room to room. When police officers arrived at the Appellant's home the troopers ordered the two people they saw out of the home, a trailer home with a mudroom attached. Appellant and his daughter walked out, and the officers arrested Appellant. One of the officers, Trooper Hoban, then asked Samantha White, Appellant's daughter, if there was anyone else in the home; she indicated there was not. Trooper Hoban decided to check himself. As he walked into the mudroom, he saw two guns, a revolver and shotgun, lying on the floor just inside the threshold. He took the guns and put them in his trunk. Weeks later, on May 4, 2012, after obtaining a search warrant based in part on the two firearms, police seized 91 additional firearms from the home.

On August 8, 2012 a grand jury indicted the Appellant with unlawful possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony. Appellant moved to suppress the two firearms plus the additional guns seized during the execution of the warrant. He argued that Trooper Hoban's warrantless search of his home was unreasonable and violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. After testimony from Trooper Hoban and Trooper Hill, the District Court ruled from the bench and denied Appellant's motion. Relying on Maryland v. Buie the District Court held that Trooper Hoban's search was a lawful search incident to the arrest, which did not require reasonable suspicion to be lawful. On January 7, 2013, Appellant pled guilty to the felon in possession of a firearm charge, expressly reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression of motion.

The Supreme Court in Buie held that a search of a house without a warrant issued on probable cause is generally unreasonable. However, in Buie the Supreme Court articulated two exceptions: (1) a warrantless search of a home incident to an arrest occurring in the home, provided that the search is limited to those places immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be immediately launched; and (2) a warrantless search of a home based on reasonable and articulable suspicion that the areas being searched may harbor an individual who poses a danger to those present at the scene of the arrest. A warrantless search of a home is also permitted when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The District Court limited its analysis to the first prong of Buie, finding that the warrantless search of Appellant's home was a limited and permissible search incident to arrest, not requiring probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

The Third Circuit, however, found that because the Appellant was arrested approximately 20 feet outside of the entrance to his home, the first prong of Buie was not applicable and the search must be evaluated pursuant to the other exceptions to the warrant requirement.

The Court also noted that its holding was consistent with the prior Third Circuit precedent in Sharrar v. Felsing as well as with cases from other federal courts of appeal. The Court then vacated the decision of the District Court and remanded the case for a determination as to whether the search was justified under the second prong of Buie or by the "exigent circumstances" doctrine.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/132130p.pdf

Panel (if known): Fuentes and Fisher, Circuit Judges and Stark, District Judge

Argument Date: January 22, 2014

Argument Location: Philadelphia, PA

Date of Issued Opinion: April 14, 2014

Docket Number: No. 13-2130

Decided: Vacate and remand for further consideration

Case Alert Author: Tam T. Tran

Counsel: Zane David Memeger, Esq., Robert A. Zauzmer, Esq., Robert J. Livermore, Esq., and Paul G. Shapiro, Esq., for Appellee; Leigh M. Skipper, Esq., Brett G. Sweitzer, Esq., Sarah S. Gannett, Esq., and Keith M. Donoghue, Esq., for Appellent

Author of Opinion: Judge Stark

Circuit: 3rd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Mark Anderson

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 04/16/2014 11:23 AM     3rd Circuit  

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