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Warrantless search of home for guns upheld after the Defendant arrested outside the house

In U.S. v. Franklin the Eleventh Circuit applied an exception to the Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches and seizures of the home. Under the Fourth Amendment, a law enforcement officer must present to an independent magistrate an affidavit showing probable cause exists to support the issuance of a warrant. Courts have carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement and this case presents one of those exceptions. The Eleventh Circuit upheld a warrantless search and seizure of firearms from a house after the Defendant had been taken out of the house and arrested for a probation violation. The defendant had been under the supervision of a state probation officer when he flat out told the P.O. that he was no longer going to comply with his conditions and would not report as required. The probation officer obtained a warrant for his arrest and learned he was staying at his fiance’s home in Ft. Myers, Florida. After arriving at the fiance’s house with other police officers, the probation officer knocked on the door but no one answered. One of the officers went to the back of the house where he observed Franklin through the rear window and saw several firearms in plain view. Franklin was eventually persuaded to come out and surrendered. After Franklin’s arrest, the probation officer entered the house claiming he did it for officer safety since there were other persons who were in the house along with the firearms. Inside he seized five weapons. The defendant was charge with the illegal possession of a firearm. The defendant filed a motion to suppress.

The magistrate judge initially granted the motion because it found the defendant was no longer on conditional release on the day of search so he consent to search was not valid. The magistrate judge also found that good faith did not apply. The district court reversed the magistrate’s ruling and found there was sufficient probable cause and exigent circumstances to justify entry into the house and seizure of the firearms. Viewing the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer would believe that evidence might be destroyed or removed before a warrant could be secured.

The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court and upheld the search and seizure on the reasons given by the district court. The evidentiary hearing demonstrated that that the probation officer acted reasonably under the circumstances. He reasonably believed the firearms could be removed before a warrant secured. Two cars were in the driveway and at least one person seemed willing to help the defendant avoid arrest by not answering the door. Here the Eleventh Circuit found an analogous case in U.S. v. Rodgers, 924 F.2d 219 (11th Circ 1991) where there were exigent circumstances to enter a residence because another person who knew of the defendant’s arrest was in the residence and the handgun could easily be removed.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument that Rodgers was not applicable because the firearms were harder to hide or remove. The appropriate inquiry is “whether the facts would lead a reasonable, experienced agent to believe that evidence might be destroyed or removed before a warrant could be secured.”

In case you missed it, kindly read my previous post:
An unredacted indictment mistakenly sent to the jury showing the Defendant’s inadmissible prior convictions was harmless error according to the Eleventh Circuit, September 19, 2012