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Commonwealth v. Romero

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

April 26, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
ANGEL ROMERO, Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
WENDY CASTRO, Appellant

          ARGUED: September 13, 2017

          Appeal from the Judgment of Superior Court entered on April 19, 2016 at 1480 EDA 2015 (reargument denied June 16, 2016) reversing and remanding the Order entered on April 17, 2015 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division at CP-51-CR-0001465-2012.

          SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

          OPINION

          WECHT JUSTICE

         In these discretionary appeals, we consider an unsettled question in the jurisprudence concerning the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That provision states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Const. amend. IV.

         In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement officers from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a residence for the purpose of conducting a routine felony arrest. In dictum expressed at the end of its opinion, the Payton Court stated that a warrant requirement for arrests in the home placed no undue burden on law enforcement, and that "an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within." Id. at 603.[1] The following year, in Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981), the High Court held that a warrant for an individual's arrest does not authorize an entry into the home of a third party not named in the arrest warrant. To protect third parties' interests in the privacy of their homes, the Steagald Court held, the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement mandates a magistrate's determination of probable cause before police may enter those homes in order to search the premises for the individual named in the arrest warrant.

         Read together, the Supreme Court's Steagald holding and Payton dictum suggest that an arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement to enter the home of the subject of an arrest warrant in order to effectuate his arrest, but that a separate search warrant is required to enter the home of a third party. Since Steagald, other courts routinely have wrestled with the application of these principles to particular factual circumstances. But the United States Supreme Court has not had occasion to revisit this important constitutional issue. The determination of the controlling rule is critical, because its application frequently will make the difference between a lawful home entry and an unlawful one.

         Today's cases require us to consider the central question that distinguishes Steagald's holding from Payton's dictum, but which those decisions left wholly unaddressed. Specifically, when a law enforcement officer seeks to execute an arrest warrant inside a home, how it is to be determined that the home is that of the intended arrestee, such that the Payton dictum could apply, rather than the home of a third party, where Steagald will control? Our analysis of this issue necessarily implicates and concerns two principles that stand at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment: the essential protection of the privacy in one's home and the necessity of the warrant requirement.

         I. Background

         In June 2011, Earnest Moreno absconded from the Diagnostic Rehabilitation Center ("DRC"), a halfway house in Philadelphia to which he had been released on state parole. A warrant was issued for Moreno's arrest, and Parole Agent Sean Finnegan undertook an investigation in order to locate Moreno and take him into custody. On August 26, 2011, Agent Finnegan, assisted by deputies of the United States Marshals Service, attempted to execute the arrest warrant at 4745 North 2ndStreet, Philadelphia, believing that address to be Moreno's most likely place of residence. The residence actually was that of Moreno's half-brother, Angel Romero, and Romero's wife, Wendy Castro.

         The agents did not find Moreno in the residence. However, upon searching the basement, the agents observed a large number of plants that appeared to be marijuana. Agent Finnegan contacted the Philadelphia Police Department and notified officers of the suspected marijuana-growing operation. Based upon this information, police officers obtained and executed a search warrant for the premises. This second search yielded sixty-one marijuana plants, a bag of marijuana, high-intensity heat lamps, a scale, a heat sealer, Castro's driver's license, mail addressed to Romero and Castro, a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, a loaded magazine, and a box of ammunition. Both Romero and Castro were arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16), possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30), conspiracy, 18 Pa.C.S. § 903, and possession of an instrument of crime, 18 Pa.C.S. § 907.

         Romero and Castro filed identical pre-trial motions requesting, inter alia, suppression of the evidence obtained from the search of their residence. On February 20, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on Romero's and Castro's motions to suppress. Both Romero and Agent Finnegan testified at the suppression hearing.

         Agent Finnegan testified that, after he was tasked with apprehending Moreno, he conducted an investigation to determine Moreno's whereabouts. Agent Finnegan explained that, based upon several pieces of information, he determined 4745 North 2ndStreet to be Moreno's most likely place of residence. See Notes of Testimony, Suppression Hearing ("N.T."), 2/20/2015, at 11-12. First, Agent Finnegan obtained this address from Moreno's most recent driver's license, which had expired in 2007. Second, when Moreno was arrested in 2009, he provided this address to the Philadelphia Police. Moreover, although Agent Finnegan could produce no documentation from DRC, he stated that an individual at DRC had informed him that Moreno used the 4745 North 2nd Street address as his point of contact while at the facility. Finally, Agent Finnegan testified that his investigation revealed that Moreno had family members residing at that address, but Agent Finnegan refused to reveal how he had obtained this information. Agent Finnegan explained that, due to his involvement with the United States Marshals Service, he would need to consult with the United States Attorney's Office before identifying his source. Id. at 24. Agent Finnegan admitted that there were other possible addresses where Moreno might be residing, but he stated that 4745 North 2nd Street "seemed to be most likely." Id. at 12.

         Agent Finnegan proceeded to recount the circumstances of his August 26, 2011 entry into and search of the Romero/Castro residence. Agent Finnegan stated that, accompanied by his colleagues in the United States Marshals Service, he knocked on the door and announced the officers' presence, and told one of the residents (whose identities were not yet known to the officers) that the officers had an arrest warrant for Moreno and "were allowed in the residence." Id. at 13. Upon further examination, Agent Finnegan clarified that, when the residents were asked whether the authorities could enter, those residents did not say "no, " but Agent Finnegan could not recall whether they said "yes." Id. at 14-15. Agent Finnegan testified that the residents began to object to the search of their home once a member of the arrest team began to approach the basement. Id. at 15. Disregarding the residents' objections, the authorities entered the basement, whereupon they discovered the marijuana-growing operation. Agent Finnegan then contacted the Philadelphia Police Department, and "held the scene" until the responding officers arrived. Id. at 17.

         Romero testified that, in August 2011, he lived at 4745 North 2nd Street with Castro and their two children, and that Moreno never resided in that home. Id. at 42-43. Romero explained that Moreno is his half-brother, but that he did not associate with Moreno because Moreno was a heroin addict. Id. at 44-45. Romero testified that he had not spoken to Moreno in approximately fifteen years. Id. at 45. Romero did not know where Moreno lived, did not know where Moreno lived in August 2011, did not know that Moreno had been on parole, and did not know that Moreno had listed 4745 North 2nd Street on his expired driver's license. Id. Romero further testified that Moreno did not receive mail at that address. Id.

         Romero contradicted Agent Finnegan's account of the entry. Romero testified that he and Castro heard a knock on the door, and that Castro opened the door. As soon as she did so, Romero heard a "ruckus." Id. at 44. He got up, and the officers already were inside. Romero testified: "They just told me, 'Shut the fuck up; sit down, ' and they said the same thing to [Castro], and they were searching the house." Id. Romero stated that neither he nor Castro consented to the search of their residence. Id.

         Romero and Castro argued that the authorities' initial entrance into their home was unlawful under Steagald, in which the Supreme Court held that, absent a search warrant, an arrest warrant does not authorize the entry into a third party's residence. See Steagald, 451 U.S. at 222. The suppression court reserved its legal conclusion pending further briefing, but placed its findings of fact on the record. Importantly, the suppression court reviewed the testimony of both Agent Finnegan and Romero, and specifically noted that "both individuals are, in fact, credible . . . ." N.T., 2/20/2015, at 53. Further, the court specifically found that Agent Finnegan did not have express permission to search the property, and that Romero and Castro objected to the search of the basement. Id.

         After reviewing the parties' briefs and conducting its own review of the applicable law, the suppression court held a second hearing on April 17, 2015, following which it granted Romero's and Castro's motions to suppress. The Commonwealth filed interlocutory appeals pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 311(d), certifying that the suppression order substantially handicapped its prosecution of the cases.[2]

         On July 10, 2015, pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), the suppression court filed an opinion in support of its order.[3] The suppression court contrasted the Steagald Court's holding with the Payton Court's observation that "an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within." Payton, 445 U.S. at 603. Noting that precedent in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has transformed the Payton dictum into a test of the reasonableness of a police officer's belief as to the residence of the intended arrestee, the suppression court determined that Agent Finnegan's belief that Moreno resided at 4745 North 2nd Street was not reasonable. Essentially, the suppression court rejected any information that the Commonwealth failed to support with documentation or corroboration, including the purported records from DRC and the testimony concerning Moreno's familial connections at the residence. The suppression court thus concluded that:

Agent Finnegan's sole basis for entering the Romero residence was the address listed on Moreno's expired driver's license and because Moreno had given that address to authorities in 2009. The license expired in 2007, almost five years before the search was conducted and Moreno last gave that address two years previously. No evidence was produced to show that the address was still valid for Moreno or that he used that address as his own at any time subsequent to 2009. Further, no evidence was produced to show a relative of Moreno's lived at the address or that Moreno had been seen in or about the residence on [or] near the date the authorities entered the premises.

Suppression Ct. Op., 7/10/2015, at 6-7.

         Because the information that Agent Finnegan relied upon was stale, the suppression court determined that "a reasonable belief could not have been formed to suggest Moreno lived in the Romero residence." Id. at 7. Citing the Steagald Court's focus upon the primacy of third parties' interests in the privacy of their homes, the suppression court concluded that the authorities' entry into Romero's and Castro's residence was unlawful. The court opined that "the Commonwealth's rationale would presumably allow warrantless entries and searches of any address provided by a parolee without further grounds or suspicion. To adopt this type of rationale would be to render meaningless the protections of our State and Federal Constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures." Id.

         In a unanimous opinion, the Superior Court reversed the suppression court's order and remanded the case for trial. Commonwealth v. Romero, 138 A.3d 21 (Pa. Super. 2016).[4] Relying upon its previous interpretations of Payton's dictum, the Superior Court postulated that, "[w]here authorities have a reasonable belief that the subject of an arrest warrant lives within a given premises, they can enter the home and arrest the suspect without a search warrant." Id. at 25 (citing Commonwealth v. Muniz, 5 A.3d 345 (Pa. Super. 2010)). The court concluded that its decision in Muniz controlled the disposition of the instant cases.

         In Muniz, law enforcement officers armed with an arrest warrant for a fugitive entered the residence of a third party not named in the warrant, ostensibly believing the residence to be that of the fugitive, and ultimately discovered controlled substances in the third party's home. Notwithstanding the officers' mistake, and despite the defendant's invocation of Steagald, the Superior Court determined that the officers' belief as to the fugitive's residence was reasonable at the time of entry. Although the defendant asserted that the fugitive's approved parole address was in another city, and although the defendant's mother testified that only she and the defendant resided in the subject residence, the Superior Court concluded that such after-the-fact testimony was "irrelevant to what authorities believed on the morning of the incident." Muniz, 5 A.3d at 351. For the Superior Court, the material considerations were that the authorities received information from the fugitive's previous neighbor, conducted a LexisNexis search, and obtained a statement from another tenant of the targeted apartment building, all of which "corroborated the reasonable belief that [the fugitive] lived in (and could be found in) the apartment." Id. The entry into the third party's home was lawful, the Muniz court concluded, because, "so long as the authorities had reason to believe that the subject of an arrest warrant . . . lived in and could be found in the apartment, they had a valid basis to search the apartment for the subject of that warrant." Id. at 352.

         As in Muniz, the Superior Court in the instant cases concluded that Agent Finnegan possessed a reasonable belief as to Moreno's residence when he sought to execute the arrest warrant. In reaching this conclusion, the Superior Court relied in part upon aspects of Agent Finnegan's testimony that the suppression court had rejected. With regard to Moreno's alleged use of the address at DRC, the Superior Court noted that Agent Finnegan testified to that fact, that the suppression court found Agent Finnegan credible, and that Romero did not contradict Agent Finnegan's account. Accordingly, invoking its standard and scope of review, the Superior Court determined that all of Agent Finnegan's asserted justifications for his belief were facts within its purview.[5] Specifically, the Superior Court concluded that Agent Finnegan's belief that Moreno resided at 4745 North 2nd Street was supported by:

(1) the address listed on Moreno's most recent, but expired, driver's license; (2) the address Moreno had given to the police department when he was arrested in 2009; (3) the address Moreno had given to the DRC in 2011 as a point of contact after being paroled; (4) the address Moreno listed while signing out of the DRC when he absconded in 2011; and (5) the fact that Moreno still had family living at that address.

Romero, 138 A.3d at 26 (citing N.T., 2/20/2015, at 11-12).

         The Superior Court determined that "Agent Finnegan's testimony, supporting his belief that 4745 North 2nd Street was Moreno's most likely last place of residence, is as strong as the evidence that the police had in Muniz to believe that the fugitive in that case lived at the defendant's residence." Id. at 28. The Superior Court disregarded Romero's testimony that he did not associate with Moreno, that he had not spoken to Moreno in fifteen years, and that Moreno did not receive mail at the Romero/Castro address. As in Muniz, the Superior Court opined that these latter facts were "irrelevant to what Agent Finnegan's good faith belief was at the time he prepared and executed the arrest warrant for Moreno" in Romero's and Castro's home. Id. (citing Muniz, 5 A.3d at 351-52). Because "Agent Finnegan reasonably believed that Moreno's last place of address" was Romero's and Castro's home, and because the authorities possessed a valid arrest warrant for Moreno, the Superior Court concluded that those authorities "had the legal basis to enter [Romero's and Castro's] residence without a search warrant, despite the fact that Moreno was not inside the home." Id. Accordingly, the Superior Court reversed the order granting suppression, and remanded the case for trial.

         Romero and Castro filed identical petitions for allowance of appeal with this Court, arguing that the Superior Court's opinion conflicts with Steagald and that the Superior Court erred in upsetting the suppression court's factual finding that Agent Finnegan did not have permission to enter Romero's and Castro's home. We granted the petitions, rephrasing the issues for our consideration as follows:

(1)In view of Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), and Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981), did the Superior Court err in concluding that an arrest warrant for Earnest Moreno authorized entry into the residence of Angel Romero and Wendy Castro for the purpose of executing the arrest warrant?
(2) Did the Superior Court apply an erroneous standard of review regarding the suppression court's finding of fact that the authorities did not have express permission to enter the residence of Angel Romero and Wendy Castro?

Commonwealth v. Romero, 162 A.3d 1108 (Pa. 2016) (per curiam).

         II. Analysis

         At the outset, we set forth our well-settled standard and scope of review. When the Commonwealth appeals from an order granting suppression of evidence, the reviewing court "may consider only the evidence of the defense and so much of the evidence for the Commonwealth as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole." Commonwealth v. Mistler, 912 A.2d 1265, 1268-69 (Pa. 2006). "Where the record supports the suppression court's factual findings, we are bound by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error." Commonwealth v. Johnson, 160 A.3d 127, 138 (Pa. 2017). "Where, as here, the appeal of the determination of the suppression court turns on allegations of legal error, the suppression court's legal conclusions are not binding on an appellate court, 'whose duty it is to determine if the suppression court properly applied the law to the facts.'" Commonwealth v. Jones, 988 A.2d 649, 654 (Pa. 2010) (quoting Mistler, 912 A.2d at 1269). "Thus, the conclusions of law of the courts below are subject to our plenary review." Id.

         A. Consent to enter the premises

         We begin with the second issue, due both to its relative simplicity and to its reliance upon the appellate standard and scope of review. As noted, supra n.4, in framing the facts of this case, the Superior Court stated that, when Agent Finnegan knocked on the door, either Romero or Castro "answered the door and permitted the authorities to enter the premises." Romero, 138 A.3d at 23. Romero and Castro assert that the Superior Court erred because, although Agent Finnegan testified to that effect, Romero's testimony directly contradicted Agent Finnegan's account of his entry. Because Romero and Castro prevailed before the suppression court, they argue that a reviewing court may not rely upon Agent Finnegan's contradicted testimony. See Briefs for Romero & Castro at 28-29. Before this Court, the Commonwealth concedes that Romero and Castro did not provide consent to the entry into their home. See Brief for Commonwealth at 20. Instead, the Commonwealth contends that, "[u]nder Payton, it was not necessary for [Romero or Castro] to consent because the agents had an arrest warrant for Moreno and reasonably believed he resided at the same dwelling" as Romero and Castro. Id.

         We agree with Romero and Castro that the Superior Court erred. In this regard, the suppression court could not have been more clear, finding as a fact "that the police officer did not have the expressed permission to search the property from the defendants." N.T., 2/20/2015, at 53. The only suggestion that Romero or Castro consented to the entry came from Agent Finnegan's testimony, which Romero's account of the events unquestionably contradicted. Because the Court of Common Pleas granted Romero's and Castro's motions to suppress, the Superior Court was not at liberty to consider any of the Commonwealth's contradicted evidence. See Mistler, 912 A.2d at 1268-69. As such, the Superior Court's statement that either Romero or Castro "permitted the authorities to enter the premises" was unsupported by the record. Consequently, lacking any claim of consent to Agent Finnegan's entry, the Commonwealth can prevail herein only by establishing a lawful basis for a nonconsensual entry into Romero's and Castro's home.

         B. The authority provided by the arrest warrant

         1. Parties' Arguments

         With this conclusion in hand, we turn now to the parties' arguments regarding the central issue presented by these appeals: the interaction between Payton and Steagald in determining the scope of the authority provided by an arrest warrant to enter a private residence. Romero and Castro focus largely on their assertion that the information upon which Agent Finnegan relied was stale and, thus, could not have justified a reasonable belief that Moreno resided at 4745 North 2nd Street on August 26, 2011. The staleness of the information, they argue, distinguishes this case from both Payton and Steagald, because the investigations in those cases revolved around "fresh" information regarding the arrestees' places of residence. See Briefs for Romero and Castro at 19-21. Romero and Castro further stress that the Commonwealth did not introduce the arrest warrant for Moreno into evidence at the suppression hearing, and they argue that the Superior Court impermissibly speculated as to the warrant's contents. Id. at 20.

         Turning to the principles animating the Steagald decision, Romero and Castro argue that an arrest warrant protects its target from an unreasonable seizure, but fails to safeguard third parties' interests in the privacy of their homes. Id. at 22-23. Rather than focusing upon the factors that Agent Finnegan testified to having considered in making his determination about Moreno's residence, Romero and Castro argue that "the Superior Court should have reviewed the warrant that was reviewed by the issuing magistrate." Id. at 24. Romero and Castro proceed through the factors that Agent Finnegan identified, endorsing the suppression court's conclusion that no evidence was produced to suggest that Moreno used the address in question at any time after 2009. Authorizing law enforcement to enter a residence upon stale information of this sort, they argue, "condones the finding of a reasonable belief to search anyone's house if within the last five years an individual in contact with the criminal justice system listed the address as his residence." Id. at 25 (emphasis omitted).

         Romero and Castro further question the Superior Court's reliance upon Muniz, arguing that the quantum and quality of evidence that the Commonwealth produced in the instant cases were inferior to the evidence that the Muniz court found to support a reasonable belief as to residence. Romero and Castro assert that this case aligns more closely with the Superior Court's application of Steagald in Commonwealth v. Martin, 620 A.2d 1194 (Pa. Super. 1993).

         In Martin, a woman saw her ex-husband, the eventual arrestee, in the home of another woman, Martin. Knowing that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest, the woman called the police to inform them of his whereabouts. When the officers arrived at Martin's house, they informed Martin that they had an outstanding arrest warrant for the man and that they were going to search Martin's house for him. Martin objected to the search, and demanded that the officers produce a search warrant. Notwithstanding Martin's protest, the officers searched her home and discovered their target in a hidden room on the third floor. Martin was charged with hindering apprehension. She moved to suppress evidence of the discovery of the arrestee in her home. Reviewing the denial of suppression, the Superior Court concluded that, pursuant to Steagald, the arrest warrant for the man did not authorize the search of Martin's home, and that the evidence derivative of that search must be suppressed. See Martin, 620 A.2d at 1196. Likewise here, Romero and Castro maintain that the arrest warrant for Moreno did not authorize a search of their home. Returning to the asserted staleness of Agent Finnegan's information, Romero and Castro note that the Martin court required suppression notwithstanding the fact that the police officers in Martin were acting upon "fresh and reliable information, " a circumstance that is lacking in the instant cases. Briefs for Romero & Castro at 27.

         The Commonwealth contends that the entry into and subsequent search of Romero's and Castro's home was lawful under Payton. The Commonwealth traces the Superior Court's application of the Payton dictum in several cases, as well as the formulation of the rule in numerous other jurisdictions. See Brief for Commonwealth at 8-13. The Commonwealth particularly endorses the Superior Court's decisions in Muniz and Commonwealth v. Conception, 857 A.2d 1298 (Pa. Super. 1995), in which that court applied the Payton dictum to conclude that an arrest warrant authorizes police officers to enter a third party's residence, so long as the officers reasonably believe that their target resides there at the time of their entry. "Here, " the Commonwealth argues, "the Superior Court correctly held, pursuant to Payton, that the officers' entry of the residence did not violate [Romero's and Castro's] Fourth Amendment rights because Agent Finnegan and his colleagues had a valid arrest warrant for Moreno and a reasonable belief that he lived with [Romero and Castro]." Brief for Commonwealth at 13.

         In light of the information available to Agent Finnegan, the Commonwealth contends that his belief "was well-founded and reasonable." Id. at 14. In addition to the official records suggesting Moreno's use of the address, the Commonwealth underscores the familial relationship between Moreno and Romero. This information, the Commonwealth contends, "was at least as reliable as the information police relied upon in Conception and Muniz placing fugitives in dwellings where they had no ostensible family ties." Id. The Commonwealth asserts that the suppression court found Agent Finnegan to be credible and incorporated his testimony into its findings of fact. Therefore, the Commonwealth maintains, the Superior Court correctly considered the information that Agent Finnegan related. Id. at 17-19.

         The Commonwealth contends that, by focusing upon the purported staleness of the information at issue, Romero's and Castro's argument "rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of Payton and Steagald." Id. at 15. The critical distinction between the disparate rules articulated in those cases, the Commonwealth asserts, is "whether the authorities believed the subject of the arrest warrant resided with the third-party complaining of the search, or whether they merely believed he might be found there." Id. (emphasis in original). In sum, the Commonwealth argues that, pursuant to Payton, the entry into Romero's and Castro's home was lawful "because the agents had an arrest warrant for Moreno and reasonably believed he resided at the same dwelling with [Romero and Castro]. Nothing more was required." Id. at 20.

         2. Payton and Steagald

          To resolve the question at bar, we must analyze the legal principles that the Supreme Court of the United States expounded in both Payton and Steagald. Although we also examine how other courts have applied these cases, we note that we are bound only by the United States Supreme Court's pronouncements upon this issue of interpretation of the United States Constitution. See Commonwealth v. Cross, 726 A.2d 333, 338 n.4 (Pa. 1999) ("This court is not bound by a lower federal court's interpretation of United States Supreme Court decisions, but is bound only by the United States Supreme Court."). Further, because neither this Court nor the Supreme Court of the United States has applied these principles directly to the circumstance at issue, we write upon a blank slate in this Commonwealth.[6]

         Payton addressed two consolidated appeals challenging the constitutionality of New York statutes that purported to authorize police officers to enter a private residence without a warrant in order to make "a routine felony arrest." Payton, 445 U.S. at 574. The first case concerned Theodore Payton, a suspect in a murder investigation. After developing sufficient probable cause to arrest Payton, but without obtaining an arrest warrant, police officers went to Payton's apartment to take him into custody. Music could be heard coming from within the apartment, and lights were on inside, but there was no response to the officers' knock on the door. Ultimately, the officers forced the door and entered the apartment. They did not locate Payton, but they discovered and seized an ammunition shell casing, which was later admitted as evidence in Payton's murder trial. In the second case, police officers sought to arrest Obie Riddick for armed robbery. Without obtaining an arrest warrant, the officers went to Riddick's house in an effort to apprehend him. The officers knocked, and Riddick's young son opened the door. Riddick was seated on a bed within the officers' field of view. The officers entered the house and arrested Riddick, and subsequently discovered narcotics and related paraphernalia in a nearby chest. Riddick was charged with narcotics offenses.

         Both Payton and Riddick sought suppression of the evidence derivative of the police entries into their residences. Each was unsuccessful, and each was convicted. Ultimately, in a single opinion, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed both Payton's and Riddick's convictions. As the Supreme Court of the United States previously had left open the question of the lawfulness of warrantless home entries to conduct arrests, and because many state and federal courts were divided on the issue, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the constitutionality of New York's statutes that purported to authorize such warrantless entries. See Payton, 445 U.S. at 574-75.

         The Payton Court began by outlining the scope of its reasoning, expressly declining to address "other related problems that are not presented" by the cases at issue. Id. at 582-83 (emphasis in original). The Court noted that neither case raised any question regarding exigent circumstances or consent to enter the home. Further, neither petitioner contended "that the police lacked probable cause to believe that the suspect was at home when they entered." Id. at 583. Finally, and importantly herein, the Court observed that the cases did not "raise any question concerning the authority of the police, without either a search or arrest warrant, to enter a third party's home to arrest a suspect." Id. (emphasis added). Rather, the sole question at issue was the constitutionality of warrantless entries into a suspect's home in order to effectuate his arrest.

         To resolve the narrow constitutional question presented, the Payton Court examined the foundational principles underlying the Fourth Amendment, its history and purpose, and its plain language. The Court reviewed the "familiar history that indiscriminate searches and seizures conducted under the authority of 'general warrants' were the immediate evils that motivated the framing and adoption of the Fourth Amendment." Id.[7] To limit the government's authority to deprive individuals of their security and privacy, the Fourth Amendment "contained two separate clauses, the first protecting the basic right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and the second requiring that warrants be particular and supported by probable cause." Id. at 584. However, the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment, the Court observed, extended farther than a mere prohibition of general warrants. Indeed, the Payton Court thought it "perfectly clear that the evil the Amendment was designed to prevent was broader than the abuse of a general warrant." Id. at 585. By the Amendment's very wording, "[u]nreasonable searches or seizures conducted without any warrant at all are condemned by the plain language of the first clause of the Amendment." Id. This prohibition, the Court explained, "applies equally to seizures of persons and to seizures of property." Id.

         After reviewing the general nature of the Fourth Amendment's protections, the Payton Court turned to the status that the home enjoys thereunder. The significant fact at issue in both cases was the physical intrusion into a home, and the Court underscored that the "physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed." Id. (quoting United States v. United States Dist. Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972)). Due to their inherent invasiveness, law enforcement entries into homes demand justification, and the Court noted that it has "long adhered to the view that the warrant procedure minimizes the danger of needless intrusions of that sort." Id. at 586. The Court emphasized the cardinal principle that warrantless searches and seizures inside a home are presumptively unreasonable. Id.

         For the Payton Court, the boundary delineated around private property rendered searches or seizures conducted therein different in kind from other actions that implicate the Fourth Amendment. For instance, contraband found in a public place may be seized without a warrant. Similarly, the seizure of contraband discovered in plain view violates no privacy interest and is presumptively reasonable. However, "[i]t is one thing to seize without a warrant property resting in an open area or seizable by levy without an intrusion into privacy, and it is quite another thing to effect a warrantless seizure of property . . . situated on private premises to which access is not otherwise available for the seizing officer." Id. at 587 (quoting G.M. Leasing Corp. v. United States, 429 U.S. 338, 352 (1977)). The Payton Court approvingly quoted Judge Harold Leventhal's opinion in Dorman v. United States, 435 F.2d 385 (D.C. Cir. 1970), which stated that, while warrantless arrests in public places are valid, "[a] greater burden is placed . . . on officials who enter a home or dwelling without consent. Freedom from intrusion into the home or dwelling is the archetype of the privacy protection secured by the Fourth Amendment." Payton, 445 U.S. at 587 (quoting Dorman, 435 F.2d at 389).[8]

         The Payton Court reviewed the New York Court of Appeals' reasoning in the cases at bar, noting that the state high court had concluded that there is a substantial difference in the relative intrusiveness of entering a home to search for property and entering a home to search for a person, as the search for property may require a more extensive examination of the relevant space. The Payton Court dismissed the purported distinction as "more theoretical than real, " both because police officers may need to search the entire premises to locate a person, and because "sometimes they ignore the restrictions on searches incident to arrest." Id. at 589. The Court's rejection of the distinction between persons and property, and between entries to search and entries to seize, was pivotal to its decision:

[T]he critical point is that any differences in the intrusiveness of entries to search and entries to arrest are merely ones of degree rather than kind. The two intrusions share this fundamental characteristic: the breach of the entrance to an individual's home. The Fourth Amendment protects the individual's privacy in a variety of settings. In none is the zone of privacy more clearly defined than when bounded by the unambiguous physical dimensions of an individual's home-a zone that finds its roots in clear and specific constitutional terms: "The right of the people to be secure in their . . . houses . . . shall not be violated." That language unequivocally establishes the proposition that "[a]t the very core [of the Fourth Amendment] stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion." Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961). In terms that apply equally to seizures of property and seizures of persons, the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant.

Id. at 589-90 (citation modified) (alterations in original).

         Guided by these bedrock principles, the Payton Court held "that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution . . . prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest." Id. at 576. The Court considered and rejected each of the government's arguments to the contrary, concluding that historical common-law principles did not command a different result, that widespread approval of warrantless entries among the states did not control the constitutional analysis, and that its holding was not inconsistent with any legislative determination of policy. Id. at 591-602. The Court concluded that "neither history nor this Nation's experience requires us to disregard the overriding respect for the sanctity of the home that has been embedded in our traditions since the origins of the Republic." Id. at 601.

         Finally, the Payton Court addressed "the practical consequences of a warrant requirement as a precondition to a felony arrest in the home." Id. at 602. The government contended that it would be unduly burdensome to require that police officers obtain a warrant before entering a residence. The Court disagreed:

In the absence of any evidence that effective law enforcement has suffered in those States that already have such a requirement, we are inclined to view such arguments with skepticism. More fundamentally, however, such arguments of policy must give way to ...

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