Friday, May 30, 2014

Denial of Suppression Motion Reversed Because Search of Home Incident to Arrest Required “Articulable Basis”

In United States v. White, No. 13-2130 (3d. Cir. April 14, 2014), the Third Circuit vacated an order denying a motion to suppress and remanded for further proceedings in order to determine the applicability of alternative exceptions to the warrant requirement that require an “articulable basis”.

White pled guilty to a felon in possession of a weapon charge, expressly reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.  White was sentenced to 96 months imprisonment and filed his appeal solely challenging the denial of his suppression motion.
 
In April of 2012, two state police troopers responded to a domestic disturbance at White’s residence.  The troopers ordered White out of his residence, instructed him to lay face down and arrested him approximately 20 feet from his residence.  The residence was searched and two firearms were found and seized.  A search warrant, based in part on the two firearms seized, was executed on the residence weeks later and an additional 91 firearms were seized.  White moved to suppress all 93 firearms and specifically argued that the initial warrantless search of his home was in violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights.

At the evidentiary hearing, the troopers testified that the warrantless search was performed in the interests of safety.  The district court denied the motion to suppress and held that the sweep of the residence that yielded the seizure of two firearms was lawful because reasonable suspicion was not required to perform searches incident to arrest under the first prong of the Supreme Court's decision in Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990).

The Third Circuit disagreed and held that the first prong of Buie is only available when the arrest is made in the home.  According to Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 824 (3d Cir. 1997), arrests that occur just outside the home must be analyzed under the second prong of the Buie analysis which requires an “articulable basis” for protective sweeps.

Since White was arrested twenty feet from his residence, the second prong of Buie is appropriate and the district court must consider on remand if there was an “articulable basis” for the protective sweep under the circumstances at that time.

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