Thursday, December 15, 2011

Detention of Defendant Away from Home Being Searched OK'd

US v. Montieth: After receiving a tip from an ATF agent that Montieth was selling marijuana, local law enforcement (based on the tip and evidence recovered from Montieth's trash) obtained a warrant to search his home. Rather than go straight to the home, they waited until Montieth drove away from the home, stopped and detained him (officers smelled marijuana), and secured his cooperation in executing the search warrant without the need for a "dynamic entry" (I think that's cop speak for "breaking down the front door with the SWAT team"). Once Montieth's wife and children left the home, officers searched the home and, with Montieth's assistance, recovered marijuana and firearms. As a result, Montieth was charged with several offenses, including carrying a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense. Montieth moved to suppress both the physical evidence recovered from his home, as well as his statements made during the search. The district court denied the motion and Montieth entered a conditional plea to the gun charge.

On appeal, Montieth reiterated his arguments about the suppression of the physical evidence and his statements. The Fourth Circuit disagreed with those arguments and affirmed. First, the court concluded that the warrant itself was based on sufficient evidence to show probable cause, particularly the evidence recovered from the trash. The warrant also particularly described the items to be seized. Second, the court concluded that the fact a warrant had been obtained justified a Terry stop of Montieth's car, particularly because the warrant allowed the search of Montieth himself, not just his home. It is not necessary for that detention to take place in the location being searched. Third, the court concluded that Montieth's statement during the traffic stop that there was marijuana in the home was not made pursuant to any questioning by the officers and thus there had been no Miranda violation there. Finally, with regards to the search itself, the court held that the statements Montieth made during the search were made following an oral waiver of his Miranda rights and the warrant itself had been validly issued.

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