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United States v. Steven Shaw Court of Appeals Briefing by David A.W. Hittle

United States v. Steven Shaw No. 11-6433 

The Facts of the case are these: Two police officers attempted to serve an arrested warrant on Phyllis Brown at 3171 Hendricks Ave. in Memphis, TN. When police arrived to Hendricks Avenue, they could not find a house with a 3171 address. They eventually found two houses on the opposite side of the street with a 3170 address. One of the houses presumable was mislabeled, and the officers had several options at their fingertips to figure out which was 3171 Hendricks and which was not. The officers decided to proceed with serving the warrant at one of the houses. The officer knocked on the front door and the woman immediately shut the door. One officer went to the back of the house and the other officer knocked on the door again. The officer on the second attempt represented that he had a warrant for “this address” False. He had a warrant for 3171 not 3170. Having no reason to know the representation was false the woman let the police in. Rather than finding Brown, they found a lot of cocaine. They arrested Shaw, and a grand jury charged him with a batter of drug-dealing and drug possession offenses. The district court denied Shaw’s motion to suppress the drugs found at his home, and he pled guilty to distributing cocaine and reserving the right to appeal the suppression ruling he was sentenced to 126 months in prison.

The Issues of the case are these: Shaw’s appeal raises two Fourth Amendment questions: Did the officers permissibly, enter the house? And did they permissibly stay there long enough to see the cocaine?

The Decision of the case was this: As to the first question, what made the officers think this was 3171 Hendricks? And was that thinking reasonable? Was it reasonable to tell the occupant they had an arrest warrant “for this house” when the statement had at least a 50/50 likelihood of being false and when readily available alternatives could have confirmed where 3171 Hendricks was? The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” That means among the treatises full of other requirements, that officers must, “take steps to reasonably ensure” they are not entering the wrong house when they execute an arrest warrant. The officers offer 5 potential reasons for entering Shaw’s house to serve this arrest warrant, and none is reasonable-singly or cumulatively. Reason one: one house was occupied, one was not. Reason two: a woman answered the door, and Phyllis Brown is a woman… Reason three: The woman closed the door upon first seeing them… Reason four: the officers saw scales in the house… Reason five: The officers had a 50/50 chance of being right, and that alone allows them to take this approach… “None of this permits officers to tell an occupant that they have a warrant to make an arrest at a given address when they do not.” “The officers took a knowing roll of the dice, and perhaps it would have worked had they been right as a matter of chance about the address. But when they were wrong, that was their problem, leaving them with having obtained entry into the wrong house based on a false pretense. An officer may not falsely tell a homeowner that he has an arrest warrant for a house, then use that falsity as the bases of obtaining entry into the house. The Supreme Court has said so much. 45 years ago, it faced this question: whether ‘a search can be justified as lawful on the basis of consent when that ‘consent’ has been given only after the official conducting the search as asserted that he possess a warrant” when he does not? (Holding that officers may not obtain consent to search through a false claim of legal authority). “But so long as there is an exclusionary rule, it is safe to say that it will apply to officers who enter and remain in a house based on false pretenses.

We reverse the district court’s contrary Fourth Amendment decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

Judge Griffin in his dissent says: “that the district court did not clearly err in its facts finding and correctly applies the law, I would affirm its denial of defendant Shaw’s motion to suppress the cocaine evidence. In addition, I would affirm defendant’s sentence as within the guideline’s sentence.

The significance of this case is that due to this case, it places absolute requirements on the police. This case finds that the police must make extraordinary efforts to make sure the house they’re serving a warrant on is the correct house. It also submits that the police cannot lie in order to gain access to a property.

I believe this is a good case, it again submits the Constitution is valid and is required to be followed. This case will also have an effect on laws such as those in Washington, about the sheriff being allowed access to a home just because the home has firearms. This would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment and “no warrants shall issue.”

Respectively Briefed by:


David A.W. Hittle