Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Exigent Circumstances Justify Warrantless Entry

US v. Moses: Moses pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of crack and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The evidence against him was seized in two warrantless searches of homes. The police, operating on tips, set up a perimeter around the first home and began to surveil Moses. When Moses eventually left the home, his car was stopped because his license has been suspended. At some point during that stop, Moses made a phone call to his cousin back at the home he'd just left. Police went to the home, an apartment building with two units. Police eventually used Moses's keys to open one unit, fearful that someone might be there destroying evidence. No one was found, but some evidence of narcotics were present. A search warrant was obtained, at which point a pistol was recovered. During that search, police got information that Moses had sold drugs from another home nearby. With Moses's keys, officers went to the home and entered, again to prevent the destruction of evidence. Again, some evidence of narcotics activity was present and a warrant was obtained. Officers found 14 grams of crack in the home.

Moses moved to suppress the evidence recovered from the two homes. The district court concluded that the first warrantless search was justified by exigent circumstances. The second warrantless search was not. However, the district court nevertheless refused to exclude the evidence found there, because the second search was made pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause that was untainted by the unsupported warrantless search. On appeal the Fourth Circuit agreed, affirming Moses's convictions. The court concluded that probable cause existed to enter the first home and that exigent circumstances were present to allow entry without a warrant. The court also concluded that the search warrant that was obtained for the second home was sufficient, once stripped of any information gained from the illegal initial warrantless entry. Judge Gregory dissented, on all those arguments.

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