Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sixth Circuit Permits Warrantless Search In Tennessee Case

The case, U.S. v. Kevin Patrick Daws, involves sheriff’s deputies in Henderson County, Tennessee who conducted a warrantless search of Kevin Daws’ home based on a public safety issue. The question was whether the threat posed by Daws justified the search of the house, something the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately decided it did.

The incident began after a home invasion in 2010. Daws had smashed through a window of an acquaintance’s house, shoving a shotgun in the man’s face while demanding cash. Before leaving, Daws told the victim that if he ever called the police Daws would kill him. Later that same night Daws invaded the home of yet another acquaintance and demanded that the man store his shotgun and money, yet again insisting that if the victim informed police of Daws’ actions that Daws would return and kill the man.

Unsurprisingly, both men called the police that night and reported the incidents. One of the responding officers had previously worked as a correctional officer at a prison where Daws served time for aggravated burglary and remembered hearing how Daws had fired a weapon in his front yard and held up a gas station attendant at gunpoint. Based on the two incidents that had occurred earlier that evening and the background knowledge of the officer, the deputies decided it was best to arrest Daws as soon as possible and to do so carefully, calling for backup and to put on body armor.

After arriving at the house, the officers noticed an accomplice on the front porch crying, talking on the phone about how he and Daws had done something bad and would be going to jail as a result. The officers arrested the man who informed them that Daws was inside and asleep. The officers then took this as an opportunity to move in without possible armed resistance, and entered through an open back door and found Daws asleep in the living room. After detaining Daws, a sweep of the house turned up the shotgun used in the earlier home invasions.

Daws was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, ultimately pleading guilty and being sentenced to 210 months in prison. Daws decided to appeal the district court’ decision, arguing the evidence found in the house should have been suppressed due to the lack of a warrant.

The Sixth Circuit, however, was not convinced. Instead, the Court walked through all the reasons why the officers were justified in entering Daws’ home immediately, without the delay of seeking a warrant. Given Daws’ behavior that evening, his prior instances of violence, threats to others and his ability to escape into the wilderness around his house, the Sixth Circuit decided that the situation presented a case where there was potential for injury to the officers and thus there was a need for swift action. The Court agreed that waiting to get a warrant would have heightened the risk that Daws would act on the threats or, at the very least, escape.

The Sixth Circuit found that the Fourth Amendment does not require that police ignore real risks of a shootout or of a suspect’s escape and can instead take action if there is a reason to do so. In this case, Daws’ own behavior justified quick action on the part of the officers and thus no warrant was necessary before entering Daws’ home.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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