Sixth Circuit Discusses Split Re Standard of Probable Cause in Searches

Per U.S. v. Pruitt, 458 F.3d 477 (6th Cir. Aug. 11, 2006):

Pruitt argues . . . that a circuit-split exists regarding the standard required for establishing a "reasonable belief" upon which officers may rely in order to enter a third-party's dwelling with only an arrest warrant. Pruitt urges this court to adopt the Ninth Circuit's ruling in United States v. Gorman, 314 F.3d 1105 (9th Cir.2002). In Gorman, the court ruled that probable cause was required to support the reasonable belief that the subject of an arrest warrant was in a third-party's residence. Id. at 1111-15. Pruitt contends that the officers here could not have had probable cause based only on an uncorroborated anonymous tip and the statement of an unknown and untested drug-seeking informant who provided the officers with fraudulent identification. Pruitt argues that such evidence is insufficient to meet the probable cause standard enunciated in Gorman.

In response, the Government argues that while a circuit-split does exist, a majority of the circuits that have ruled on the issue have determined that a lesser reasonable belief standard, and not probable cause, is sufficient to allow officers to enter a residence to enforce an arrest warrant, and that the officers here had adequate information in this case to meet this standard. We agree.

Our decision is consistent with the majority of our sister circuits who have ruled that consideration of common sense factors and the totality of the circumstances is sufficient to formulate a reasonable belief that a suspect is on the premises. See United States v. Route, 104 F.3d 59, 62-3 (5th Cir.1997) (finding that sound of television on the inside of the house and the presence of a car in the driveway was sufficient to form basis of the reasonable belief that the suspect was in the home); United States v. Risse, 83 F.3d 212, 216-17 (8th Cir.1996) (deciding that telephone call to residence confirming that suspect was there was far beyond what is necessary to establish reasonable belief); United States v. Lauter, 57 F.3d 212, 215 (2d Cir.1995) (holding that informant's tip that suspect was unemployed and liked to sleep late was sufficient to establish reasonable belief that suspect was in apartment); United States v. Edmonds, 52 F.3d 1236, 1248 (3d. Cir.1995) (deciding that surveillance in front of apartment and observation that no one left apartment during surveillance was sufficient to constitute reasonable belief that suspect was in apartment) . . . [and] United States v. Thomas, 429 F.3d 282, 286 (D.C.Cir.2005) (deciding that early morning hour of entry was sufficient to establish reasonable belief that suspect would be home) . . . Accordingly, we hold that an arrest warrant is sufficient to enter a residence if the officers, by looking at common sense factors and evaluating the totality of the circumstances, establish a reasonable belief that the subject of the arrest warrant is within the residence at that time.

Our holding contrasts with that of the Ninth Circuit, which alone has ruled that reasonable belief is the equivalent of probable cause in determining whether a suspect is within the residence. United States v. Gorman, 314 F.3d 1105, 1111 (9th Cir.2002) (" 'the reason to believe,' or reasonable belief, standard of Payton ... embodies the same standard of reasonableness inherent in probable cause."). . . [T]he dissent disregards the majority of our sister circuit's holdings, as well as the D.C. Circuit's assertion that it is more than "likely ... that the Supreme Court in Payton used a phrase other than 'probable cause' because it meant something other than 'probable cause.' " Thomas, 429 F.3d at 286 (referring to "[t]hus, 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." Payton, 445 U.S. at 603, 100 S.Ct. 1371) (emphasis added). We find the D.C. Circuit's analysis convincing. The Payton Court's use of "probable cause" in describing the foundation for an arrest warrant and its use of "reason to believe" in describing the basis for the authority to enter a dwelling shows that the Court intended different standards for the two. Had the Court intended probable cause to be the standard for entering a residence, it would have either expressly stated so or used the same term for both situations. Instead, its use of different terms indicates that it intended different standards apply.


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