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United States v. Doe

decided: March 31, 1983.



Gibbons, Higginbotham, and Becker, Circuit Judges.

Author: Becker


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents the question whether an arrest warrant containing a constitutionally insufficient description of a suspect is cured if the law-enforcement agent who executes the warrant has independent personal knowledge that the arrestee is the person for whom the warrant was intended. We hold that the warrant is not so cured; that an arrest requiring a nonconsensual entry into the suspect's home and made on the strength of the defective warrant is void; and that the district court erred in denying motions to suppress evidence obtained as a result of appellant's arrest under such circumstances.


On December 12, 1979, Special Agent Frank Schmotzer, of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, purchased approximately one-half of an ounce of cocaine from Paul Ionadi and appellant Edward Carr. At the time, Schmotzer knew Carr only as "Ed." Ionadi was arrested on October 2, 1980. On October 31, 1980, Ionadi and John Doe, a/k/a "Ed," were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania for distributing cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a)(1) (1976) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (1976).*fn1 Pursuant to the indictment, a magistrate issued a bench warrant that same day; the warrant described its subject only as: "John Doe a/k/a Ed."

"Ed" remained at large for almost a year, until Agent Schmotzer learned from a confidential source that Ionadi had a friend named Eddie Carr, whose description fit "Ed" from whom Agent Schmotzer had bought cocaine in December 1979. When Agent Schmotzer obtained a picture of Edward Carr from the Pittsburgh Police Department on October 5, 1981, he recognized Carr as "Ed."

At approximately 9:45 A.M. the following morning, Agent Schmotzer and Agent Edward Cassidy went to appellant's residence. Agent Schmotzer knocked on the door. When appellant opened the door, Agent Schmotzer held the door open, identified himself as a narcotics agent, and told appellant that he had a warrant for his arrest. Appellant thereupon admitted the agents, who placed him under arrest. Appellant then made some incriminating statements, including an admission that led to the seizure of a gun from his apartment.

Following his arraignment, appellant entered a plea of not guilty; he also moved to suppress the statements he had made and the evidence (the gun) that had been seized, claiming that they were fruits of an illegal arrest based on an invalid warrant. The district court denied appellant's motion, holding that the mere lack of a description in the arrest warrant would be unnecessary in this case, where "the agent made the buy and . . . therefore could identify the Defendant and where the agent had made a positive identification before he attempted to execute the arrest warrant." Proceedings of Defendant's Motion to Suppress, United States v. John Doe a/k/a Ed (Edward Carr), No. 80-174, tr. at 26 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 1981). Appellant thereafter entered a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal the suppression ruling.*fn2 The district court accepted the plea and sentenced appellant to three years in prison followed by a special parole term of three years. This appeal followed.


In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 576, 63 L. Ed. 2d 639, 100 S. Ct. 1371 (1980), the Supreme Court held that, absent exigent circumstances, "the Fourth Amendment . . . prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest." The Government does not argue that the entry was consensual and conceded at oral argument that if the warrant is invalid, the arrest was illegal under Payton. We thus need to decide only whether the description in the warrant was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the fourth amendment and, if not, whether Agent Schmotzer's independent knowledge that appellant was the person named in the warrant could supplement the description to satisfy constitutional requisites. A finding of illegality would require suppression of all fruits of the arrest.

The fourth amendment mandates that the issued warrant "particularly describ[e] . . . the persons or things to be seized"; Fed. R. Crim. P. 4(c)(1) provides that a warrant "shall contain the name of the defendant or, if his name is unknown, any name or description by which he can be described with reasonable certainty," and this Rule has been read as a gloss on the fourth amendment, Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 481 n.9, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441, 83 S. Ct. 407 (1963);*fn3 Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 485, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1503, 78 S. Ct. 1245 (1958). This "reasonable certainty" requirement both insures that a sufficient showing of probable cause has been made to the issuing magistrate and minimizes the risk of error by the executing officer. Because the police are directly "engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime," the fourth amendment requires "that . . . inferences be drawn [instead] by a neutral and detached magistrate . . . ." Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14, 92 L. Ed. 436, 68 S. Ct. 367 (1948).

"John Doe" warrants fail to honor the principles embedded in the fourth amendment and Rule 4: even assuming that the officer swearing out a "John Doe" warrant has demonstrated probable cause to arrest someone, the warrant, by its terms, will allow the executing officer to make his own inferences in effecting an arrest. For these reasons, "John Doe" warrants consistently have been held illegal. See, e.g., West v. Cabell, 153 U.S. 78, 38 L. Ed. 643, 14 S. Ct. 752 (1894); United States v. Jarvis, 560 F.2d 494 (2d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 934, 55 L. Ed. 2d 532, 98 S. Ct. 1511 (1978); United States v. Swanner, 237 F. ...

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