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Violating Payton: It’s Going to Hurt

Stealing a metaphor from Shrek, Search and Seizure is like an onion, it has layers.  Depending on which layer you run afoul of determines whether some, or all, of your evidence will be tossed out.  When an officer makes a warrantless entry into a home to arrest a suspect, in addition to putting physical evidence at risk, warrantless entries can put the suspect’s mirandized statements at risk, too.

The US Supreme Court in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), ruled that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect’s home to make a routine felony arrest. Here, police had probable cause to believe Payton had murdered the manager of a gas station.  With probable cause, but without a warrant, police used force to enter Payton’s apartment to arrest him.  He was not home, but a shell casing was found in plain view which was later entered as evidence at his murder trial.  Prior to the US Supreme Court deciding Payton, New York and other states had statutes allowing officers to enter a private home without a warrant or consent, and by force, to make a felony arrest.  The Payton ruling deemed such statutes unconstitutional, making such entries without a warrant, without consent, and without some other exception to the warrant requirement such as exigency, a violation of the 4th Amendment.  Thus, a violation of the Payton rule makes physical evidence found during the warrantless arrest vulnerable to a motion to suppress.


But what about statements given by the suspect during or after an arrest made in violation of Payton?  In New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14 (1990), police had probable cause to believe Harris had murdered Thelma Staton. Police, without a warrant, went to arrest Harris at his home. Three officers knocked on Harris’ door, displaying their guns and badges.  Harris let them enter his home (determined later to be nonconsensual). Officers entered, mirandized Harris, and Harris admitted to the killing.  Police then took Harris to the police station where he was again mirandized, and he signed a written confession.  And finally, police read Harris his Miranda warnings again, and this time videotaped him making admissions of the killing to the District Attorney after Harris had indicated he wanted to end the interrogation. The trial court suppressed Harris’ first and third statements. Harris’ written statement was allowed into evidence, and he was convicted.  He appealed.  The sole issue for the US Supreme Court to decide was whether Harris’ second statement—the written statement made at the station house—should have been suppressed because the police, by entering Harris’ home without a warrant and without his consent, violated Payton. A violation of Payton makes evidence vulnerable to suppression, but the US Supreme Court did not want to make a “per se” rule that all tangible or live-witness testimony, which somehow came to light through a chain of causation that began with an illegal arrest, must be suppressed. Before suppressing evidence, which is the most extreme remedy for improper police conduct, courts will look at whether the remedy is necessary to dissuade police from engaging in the conduct.  The warrant requirement for an arrest made in a home is there to protect the sanctity of the home.  Suppressing evidence, both physical and testimonial, that the police obtain in the home after illegal entry into that home would serve to curb that future conduct.  The statements made by Harris outside the home, while in lawful police custody and after being mirandized, were not fruit of his unlawful arrest and suppressing them would go no further to protecting the physical integrity of the home.  Thus, the US Supreme Court held that where police have probable cause to arrest a suspect, a statement made by a suspect outside of his home, even though the statement is taken after an arrest was made in the home in violation of Payton, should not be suppressed.

Keep in mind, in Payton and Harris, there was probable cause to arrest.  The arrest was good.  The entry was bad, i.e., the location of the arrest.  An illegal arrest based on a lack of probable cause is a completely different analysis as that negates an officer’s authority to arrest in its entirety. When an arrest has been made inside the home in violation of Payton, courts have suppressed evidence found in a search of the suspect as part of a search incident to arrest. Courts have suppressed further evidence found after the service of a search warrant when the basis of the warrant relied on information gained from either evidence found or statements given after an unlawful arrest due to a Payton violation.

What does this mean for you?  If you need to enter a home to arrest a suspect who you have probable cause to arrest, getting a warrant will avoid the onion fumes that make us all cry.

Learn more about case law, procedure and investigation in Third Degree Communications’ law enforcement training courses.

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