The Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals recently heard an interesting case out of Tennessee involving evidence
that was uncovered during the search of a house that occurred after executing
an arrest warrant at the wrong address.
The case, U.S.
began when Memphis police officers were dispatched to to arrest Phyllis Brown
at her home. The problem was that the woman’s address, 3171 Hendricks Avenue,
did not appear to exist. When the officers arrived on the street they
discovered that there were two houses across from one another that both listed
their address as 3170 Hendricks Avenue. Instead of clarifying the problem through investigation, the police chose to simply approach one of the two houses--the one that appeared
to be occupied.
The police knocked on the door
and were greeted by a woman. Rather than asking about Phyllis Brown or checking
about the confused addresses, they only told the woman that they had a warrant
for the address. It turns out the house they had selected was actually 3170.
Unfortunately for the woman at
home, she never bothered to question the officers or demand to see the warrant.
Instead, she let them in the house where they discovered a substantial amount
of cocaine and no Phyllis Brown.
Rather than admit the misidentification with the adress,
the government claimed that it had several really good reasons why the
officers’ entry into the house was reasonable. They claimed that because it was
occupied, a woman answered the door, the officers saw scales inside the house
and finally, and because the odds
were 50/50 that they had the right house, the execution of the warrant should
be deemed reasonable.
The Sixth Circuit
disagreed with the government’s rationale, deciding that none of the justifications
were sufficient. Instead, the Court said that the police lacked any reasonable
basis for entering the house and that the evidence gathered would be
The Sixth Circuit took special
care to address the false statements made by the officers to gain entrance to
the house. Not only did the officers lie once, saying that they had a warrant
to search “this address,” but they continued their lie once inside, saying that
they were there looking for the house located at 3170 Hendricks. The officers
said their goal in misleading the woman was to then force her to admit that she
was actually in 3171 Hendricks. Regardless, the Court said the officers behaved
inappropriately and that all evidence derived from searches based on false
pretenses will be excluded at trial.
To read the full opinion, click here.
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