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Media Alerts - United States v. Johnny Vasquez-Algarin - Third Circuit
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May 23, 2016
  United States v. Johnny Vasquez-Algarin - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Expands Definition of Probable Cause for Entry of Third Party Residences.

Area of Law: Criminal, Search and Arrest Warrants

Issues Presented: How certain must officers be that a suspect resides at and is present at a particular address before forcing entry into a private dwelling?

Brief Summary: Officers obtained an arrest warrant for a suspect and information that he was living at a residence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Upon arriving and knocking on the door, there was no response but the officers had reason to believe someone was inside and entered forcibly. They did not find the suspect, but Defendant as well as evidence of drug related crimes was present, and they made an arrest. The Third Circuit determined that the entry was unlawful and the evidence must be suppressed. The Court reasoned that law enforcement with only an arrest warrant can force entry into a home only if they have probable cause to believe the arrestee resides at and is present within the residence.

Extended Summary: An arrest warrant for Edguardo Rivera was issued in 2010 for homicide. Deputy Marshal Duncan received information from another officer that Rivera was "staying" or "residing" at an address in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Upon arriving at the residence with other officers and knocking on the door, they received no response but heard movement inside to indicate there were people attempting to hide their presence. The officers then made a forcible entry. Rivera was not in the house at the time, but Defendant Vasquez-Algarin was present and also in plain view was paraphernalia indicating intent to distribute illicit substances. A protective sweep revealed additional drugs, weapons, and keys for a stolen car. The officers then arrested him, having no previous warrant up to that point.
Vasquez-Algarin and his two brothers, who also lived with him, were charged with federal distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy. He pled not guilty and moved to suppress the evidence found at the scene. The district court denied the motion, finding that the officers had probable cause to believe the fugitive was both a resident at the scene and present when they arrived. Vasquez-Algarin was convicted on both counts, and he appealed the decision on the grounds that the officers needed a search warrant to enter the home when the suspect did not in fact reside there.
The Court began by explaining that the entry was reasonable if the police had sufficient information to support a reasonable belief that the suspect was present and resided there at the time. To satisfy reasonable belief, the police needed probable cause to make entry. In order to determine reasonableness, the Court examined existing Supreme Court standards as they applied to the constitutionality of in-home arrests.
After reviewing Supreme Court precedent, the Court reasoned that law enforcement with only an arrest warrant can force entry into a home only if they have probable cause to believe the arrestee resides at and is present within the residence. In application to the present case, there was no such probable cause and as such the entry was unlawful as well as the subsequent finding of evidence and arrest. There was no adequate evidence that Rivera was a resident of the house in question and no knowledge of whether he was inside at the time as opposed to anyone else.
The Court concluded by addressing whether the good faith requirement should apply to such circumstances. Applying Supreme Court jurisprudence, the Court determined the good faith exception did not apply. Evidence that the officers were themselves concerned Rivera may not have lived there dispensed with this argument, as well as the fact that a reasonable officer may have concluded the search was illegal.
To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/151941p.pdf

Panel: Fuentes, Krause, Roth, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: February 11, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: May 2, 2016

Docket Number: No. 1-11-cr-00200-001

Decided: Vacated and Remanded.

Case Alert Author: John Farrell

Counsel: Ronald A. Krauss, Esq., Frederick W. Ulrich, Esq. [Argued], counsel for Appellant; Daryl F. Bloom, Esq. [Argued], Stephen R. Cerutti, II, Esq., counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Judge Krause

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 05/23/2016 11:20 AM     3rd Circuit  

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