Wednesday, June 04, 2014

To qualify for the exception to the warrant requirement, a "knock and talk" encounter must begin at the front door

Responding to a police dispatch, Pennsylvania State Trooper Jeremy Carroll and another trooper proceeded to the home of Andrew and Karen Carman. The troopers were looking for a man who had stolen two loaded handguns and a car with New Jersey plates. They had neither a warrant to search the Carmans' property, nor a warrant to arrest the theft suspect. Upon arriving at the Carman residence, the troopers bypassed the front door of the home and proceeded directly to the back of the house and onto a deck adjoining the kitchen. On the deck, Trooper Carroll and Andrew Carman scuffled. The Carmans' brought unlawful entry and unlawful seizure claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case proceeded to trial. After opening arguments and at the close of Carroll's testimony, the Carmans moved for a directed verdict based on Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013). The District Court denied the motions. Both claims were also rejected by a jury. This appeal followed.

On appeal, the Third Circuit, in Carman v. Carroll, No. 13-2371 (3d Cir. May 15, 2014), reversed the district court's denial of the Carmans' motion for judgment as a matter of law on their unlawful entry claim, but affirmed the jury's verdict on the Carmans' unlawful seizure claim, finding sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. The Court began by reiterating the Supreme Court's holding in Jardines, that a warrantless search of a home's curtilage is presumptively unreasonable. It was undisputed that Carroll entered the Carmans' curtilage (backyard) without a warrant, without consent, and without exigent circumstances. Carroll argued that his entry was justified as a "knock and talk" encounter, which was a permitted exception to the warrant requirement.

Under the "knock and talk" exception, a police officer may approach a home and knock, just as any private citizen may do. In order to satisfy the "knock and talk" exception, three requirements must be met. First, a police officer, like any visitor, must knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then leave if not expressly invited to stay. Second, the purpose of a "knock and talk" must be to interview the occupants of the home, not to conduct a search. Finally, "a 'knock and talk' encounter must begin at the front door because that is where police officers, like any other visitors, have an implied invitation to go." Here, the Court held that Trooper Carroll could not avail himself of the "knock and talk" exception because he entered the back of the Carmans' property without approaching the front door first. The Court rejected Carroll's explanation that the layout of the Carmans' property (a corner lot with side street parking) made the back door the most expedient and direct access to the house from where the troopers had to park. The Court noted that the Fourth Amendment is not grounded in expediency and the "knock and talk" exception does not give police license to bypass the front door and enter other parts of the curtilage based on expediency concerns. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court's denial of the Carmans' motion for judgement as a matter of law on the unlawful entry claim.

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