Published on:

Defendant challenges evidence found on a warrantless search

In U.S. v. Hollis, the court of appeals is required to decide whether the subject of an arrest warrant may challenge the use of evidence found in plain view during a protective sweep in a third party’s residence.

In February 2011, Officers were searching for Hollis based on an outstanding Georgia arrest warrant for parole violation. In March 2011 officers surrounded an apartment alleged to be a drug house. Hollis peered out from behind the window, and the officers recognized him. The officers yelled “police” and ordered Defendant to open the door. After waiting, the officers used a battering ram to open the door and arrested Hollis. Other officers sweep of the area. They found a cosmetic bag with marijuana on a dresser, weapons under a bed, and marijuana on the kitchen counter. The officers then obtained a search warrant for the premises, in a thorough search of the apartment, they discovered about a pound of cocaine, large amounts of marijuana, crack cocaine, ecstasy, scales, and about $5,000 in cash. One of the scales had a latent fingerprint on it, latter attributed to Hollis.

A Federal grand jury indicted Hollis on two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, one count of possession of a fire arm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and one count of felony possession of a firearm.

The Defendant Hollis moved later to suppress the evidence obtained from the apartment on the ground that officers conducted an illegal, warrantless search in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. A magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing and found that Hollis was not invited into the apartment by its owner, but by an acquaintance of the owner. Because Hollis was a “guest of an uninvited guest, “the magistrate judge recommended that Hollis’s motion to suppress be denied. The district court adopted the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge and denied Hollis’s motion to suppress. Before trial, the government move to exclude the testimony of Hollis’s fingerprint expert. The government requested a hearing to confirm expert’s qualifications. The district court ruled that expert was not qualify to testify about fingerprints comparisons and the same expertise was required to judge the sufficiency of a latent print for comparison, the district court ruled that expert could not testify about the sufficiency of the print taken from the scale. The Jury convicted defendant on all counts.

The court of appeals divided their discussion in two parts. First, they explained that the drugs and firearms seized from the apartment were admissible because they were found in plain view during a protective sweep incident to a valid arrest. Second they explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to allow expert to testify about sufficiency of the latent fingerprint for comparison.
Hollis argues that district court erred when it admitted the evidence seized from the apartment because he had a reasonable expectation of privacy as a guest in the apartment. The government denies that Hollis had a reasonable expectation of privacy as a guest and they argue that the evidence was discovered in plain view during the protective sweep incident to a valid arrest. The court of appeals agreed with that alternative argument of the government. The district court applied the law correctly and did not base its decisions on clearly erroneous facts.

Because the evidence was discovered in plain view during protective sweep incident to a valid arrest and because the expert was not qualified as an expert in fingerprint comparison, the court of appeals affirmed Hollis convictions on all counts.

Contact Information