August 22, 2019

Tenth Circuit: No Fourth Amendment Violation in Search and Seizure of Defendant’s Home and Vehicle

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Jones on Tuesday, December 18, 2012.

Officers of the Missouri State Highway Patrol conducted surveillance of a hydroponics store in Kansas City, Missouri. Defendant-Appellant Mr. Jones (“Jones”) arrived at the store.  After he entered the store, Sergeant Blunt requested a computer check on the license plate of Mr. Jones’s truck. The records indicated that his driving privileges had been suspended in Missouri, and that he was on parole in Missouri for a prior drug offense. Mr. Jones drove from the store in Kansas City, Missouri, to his residence in Kansas City, Kansas. The officer approached Mr. Jones in the alley behind his house, where the Officer told Jones he was conducting a drug investigation, and that he was there for Mr. Jones’ marijuana plants.

Without explicitly saying so, Sergeant Blunt indicated that he wanted to search Mr. Jones’s residence.  Sergeant Blunt never explicitly told Mr. Jones that he could refuse consent. Mr. Jones never told the officers that he did not want them to search his residence. At some point, Mr. Jones walked toward his residence. Once inside, Mr. Jones unlocked another door, grabbed a gun, and shot Sergeant Blunt.  Trooper Tyrrell wounded Mr. Jones and the officers retreated to their vehicles.

The officers radioed dispatch, who notified the officers that they were in fact in Kansas City, Kansas.  The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department responded to the location and took command.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department got search warrants to search Mr. Jones’s residence and vehicle, which resulted in the seizure of evidence related to marijuana and firearms possession.

Mr. Jones was indicted and filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the evidence obtained from Mr. Jones’s home and truck was obtained as a result of an unlawful detention of Mr. Jones, and a warrantless entry into his home without consent. The district court denied the motion. Jones appealed.

On appeal, Mr. Jones makes five arguments:

First, Jones argues that because the Missouri officers were acting outside of their jurisdiction (in Kansas), their seizure of Mr. Jones effected a Fourth Amendment violation. There is no dispute that the interaction with Mr. Jones and the Missouri officers was outside of their jurisdiction. However, in federal prosecutions, the test of reasonableness in relation to the Fourth Amendment protected rights must be determined by federal law even though the police actions are those of state police officers. Accordingly, Mr. Jones’s argument is mistaken.

Second, Jones contends that the Missouri officers’ conversation with him in the alley amounted to a seizure. A Fourth Amendment seizure does not occur simply because a police officer approaches an individual and asks a few questions. Accordingly, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Mr. Jones’s position would have felt free to terminate his encounter with the Missouri officers outside of his home.

Third, Mr. Jones contends that there was not reasonable suspicion for the officers to take his driver’s license and detain him. The government admits that what began as a consensual encounter became an investigative detention once the agents received Mr. Jones’ driver’s license and did not return it to him. However, there were a number of facts available to the Missouri officers at the time they took Mr. Jones’s license that would have justified their objectively reasonable suspicion that Mr. Jones was engaged in criminal activity, warranting his detention for further investigation.

Fourth, he maintains that he did not consent to the Missouri officers’ entry into his home. There can be no doubt that Mr. Jones’s actions here—though nonverbal—could have been reasonably interpreted by the Missouri officers as communicating Mr. Jones’s consent to their accompanying him into his home.

Finally, because the Kansas search warrants for his home and car were based upon information improperly unearthed by the Missouri officers in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the evidence secured by the warrants is tainted and thus inadmissible. However, the Tenth Circuit already concluded that the Missouri officers’ lack of authority under Kansas law was of no import to the Fourth Amendment seizure analysis. Therefore, the evidence that the Missouri officers obtained during their investigation could properly form the basis for the warrants secured by the Kansas officers.



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