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United States v. Cruz.

No. 19-2127. D.N.M. Judge Briscoe. Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure—Motion to Suppress—Probable Cause—Warrantless Entry into Home—Exigent Circumstances.

October 5, 2020

Defendant was on federal probation and was known to have trafficked drugs in the past. Officers received information from both a confidential informant and a confidential source that defendant was trafficking large amounts of methamphetamine and heroin. Officers arranged a drug buy through the confidential source in hopes of conducting an investigative detention with defendant to convince him to “flip” on a bigger target. They did not intend to search defendant’s home because they did not believe he would store drugs there. When officers approached defendant, he ran back onto his property and into his house despite officers’ instructions for him to stop and get on the ground. The testifying detective believed that defendant was going to destroy evidence and pursued him into the home. Officers arrested defendant when he emerged from his bathroom. Following Miranda warnings, defendant consented to a full search of his residence and vehicle, where officers found and recovered large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin along with several firearms.

Defendant was charged with multiple drug and weapons charges. He moved to suppress the evidence police recovered during the search of his residence and vehicle. The district court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that the warrantless entry into his home was supported by probable cause and justified by exigent circumstances—specifically, the destruction of evidence and the hot pursuit of a suspect. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of heroin with intent to distribute and to possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. The district court then sentenced defendant to 360 months’ imprisonment.

Defendant argued on appeal that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress, contending that evidence should have been excluded because it was the result of an unlawful search and seizure. When analyzing warrantless arrests that begin outside the home and end with police chasing a suspect into his or her residence, courts analyze whether police had probable cause to make the arrest in the first place and then whether exigent circumstances existed to justify the officers’ intrusion into the home. Here, based on the totality of the circumstances, including the officers’ knowledge of defendant’s criminal history, detailed and corroborated information from confidential informants, and defendant’s behavior at the drug buy, there was probable cause for defendant’s arrest.

The Tenth Circuit employed a four-part test to determine whether the likelihood of destruction of evidence justified the warrantless entry. The test requires the officer’s entry to be (1) pursuant to clear evidence of probable cause, (2) available only for serious crimes and in circumstances where the destruction of evidence is likely, (3) limited in scope for the minimum intrusion necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence, and (4) supported by clearly defined indicators of exigency that are not subject to police manipulation or abuse. As discussed above, the officers had probable cause to arrest defendant. Defendant did not dispute that drug trafficking is a serious crime or that the officers’ entry was limited in scope to the minimum intrusion necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence. Defendant disputed that the destruction of evidence was likely, but under the circumstances, the detective’s belief that defendant would try to destroy evidence was justified. Defendant also argued that the police impermissibly created an exigency by setting up a controlled buy but failing to obtain a warrant. However, defendant created the exigency for the officers to enter his home when he fled from them.

Defendant also argued that the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement was inapplicable. Here, the hot pursuit exception applied because the record demonstrated that officers were in immediate or continuous pursuit of defendant from a public street into his home after he fled, in an effort to apprehend him.

The denial of the motion to suppress was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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