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Can the Government Enter My Home with Only an Arrest Warrant? The Answer is Maybe!

In some situations, the government seeks to enter a person’s home armed solely with an arrest warrant. Sometimes this is sufficient, but not always.

Payton v. New York: Arrest Warrant Justified Entry into Suspect’s Home.

In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 587 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court found:

If there is sufficient evidence of a citizen’s participation in a felony to persuade a judicial officer that his arrest is justified, it is constitutionally reasonable to require him to open his doors to the officers of the law. Thus, for Fourth Amendment purposes, 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.

Thus, Payton allows the government, armed only with an arrest warrant, to enter that person’s residence AND potentially any residence or home which they “reasonably believe” he or she is.

Steagald v. United States: What if the Arrest Warrant was for Someone Else?

Merely one year after Payton, the Supreme Court decided Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981). In Steagald, the government entered the home of Steagald with an arrest warrant for a different person, Lyons. While conducting the search for Lyons, the government obtained evidence against Steagald and indicted him on those charges.

The Supreme Court drew a line as to what the government could do with only an arrest warrant. It found that if the government wished to use any evidence found in Steagald’s home, then it needed a search warrant to do so. All the evidence against Steagald was found inadmissible as the government needed a search warrant, in addition to the arrest warrant for Lyons, to enter his home. However, Steagald does not protect the arrestee, i.e. Lyons, in this situation. Every individual that has attempted to extend the Steagald rationale to the arrestee, and not the homeowner, has been unsuccessful.

Key Questions: Who is the Arrest Warrant for? Whose House is it?

The key questions here are: who is the arrest warrant for and whose home are they entering? The next question is whether the government has established a “reasonable belief” that the person in the arrest warrant will be found within the residence. This is a highly factual argument and will also turn on what jurisdiction you live in.

In Connecticut, the government can satisfy the reasonable belief test by showing a “mere suspicion” the arrestee is within. In other jurisdictions, the government must establish a reasonable belief under the heightened “probable cause” standard. Thus, where you are arrested can have an enormous impact on whether the government can establish its reasonable belief.

Currently, the Law Offices of Mirto & Rasile has a pending Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court regarding the split of authority on whether a “mere suspicion” or “probable cause” is needed by the government. Once this issue is decided, then we will update everyone on this important issue.

If your Connecticut criminal case involves entry into a home based on a search warrant, your defense attorney generally should raise any challenge to the evidence seized early in your case. Our criminal defense attorneys would be happy to consult with you about representation in your case. Contact us today.

Categories: Criminal Defense

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