The United States Supreme Court may consider whether police need an arrest warrant to enter a person’s home or whether they can enter a home without probable cause that the person resides there and is present.
The Supreme Court ruled in Payton v. New York, 445 U. S. 573 (1980) that the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from entering a suspect’s home without a warrant or under exigent circumstances. The Court struck down a New York statute providing for such warrantless entries because the Fourth Amendment draws a firm line at the entrance to the house.
The circuit split referenced in the petition for cert in the Pennington case refers to the disagreement among the lower courts on the standard required for police to enter a suspect’s home to execute an arrest warrant. Some circuits require police to have additional probable cause beyond the arrest warrant to enter a residence, while others do not.
The different standards used by the courts can be summarized as follows:
- Probable cause plus a warrant: Police must have both a valid arrest warrant and probable cause to believe that the individual named in the warrant is present in the home before they can enter the residence to execute the warrant. This is the standard used by some circuits, such as the Fourth Circuit.
- Probable cause alone: Police only need probable cause to believe that the individual named in the warrant is present in the home before they can enter the residence to execute the warrant. This is the standard used by other circuits, such as the Ninth Circuit.
The importance of the Payton case is that it established the general principle that the Fourth Amendment requires police to have a warrant or exigent circumstances to enter a suspect’s home. The Court held that the home is entitled to the highest level of protection under the Fourth Amendment and that the warrant requirement is a “basic rule” that cannot be circumvented by a state statute. The Court’s decision in Payton established the principle that the Fourth Amendment draws a “firm line” at the entrance to the home, and that police must have a warrant or exigent circumstances to cross that line.
In the Pennington case, the issue is whether police can enter a suspect’s home to execute an arrest warrant without probable cause that the individual named in the warrant is present in the home. The petitioner argues that the probable cause standard is a foundational Fourth Amendment interest that must be protected, and that the lower court’s decision to allow entry based solely on the arrest warrant violates that principle. The case raises important questions about the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protection for the home and the requirements for police to enter a suspect’s residence to execute an arrest warrant.
The United States Supreme Court may hear another case addressing warrantless eateries into a private home. The case of West Virginia v. Pennington, is before the Court on a Petition for Certiorari. This case raises the issue of whether police can enter a home to execute an arrest warrant.
What Happened in the Pennington Case?
Tracy Pennington’s daughter was sent to live with Pennington’s parents in their hometown. Shortly thereafter, the state issued a statement identifying Pennington’s daughter as a “active runaway, whose current whereabouts are unknown.” Carey Blackhurst, an employee of the Department of Health and Human Resources, spent several months attempting to locate her, but she was unsuccessful. A credible informant contacted Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben DeWees stating that she saw Tracy Pennington in her apartment with her child and that Pennington said her plan was, “to keep [S.W.] hidden until she was 18, so all this juvenile stuff would go away.”
In Pennington v. West Virginia, the defendant argued in the petition for certiorari that the United States Supreme Court should grant certiorari because the standard for entering a home to execute a warrant implicates foundational Fourth Amendment interests, and only a probable cause standard adequately protects those interests.” The child of Pennington was also supposed to be in the care of her grandparents, who reside in a nearby city, so her living address does not correspond with her mother’s apartment. “As the State has conceded, police officers entered Tracy Pennington’s home without a search warrant, without consent, without exigent circumstances, and critically—without probable cause for the presence of any wrongdoing or wrongdoer” This raises questions as to whether the source that informed the officers about Pennington’s daughter’s whereabouts is a credible witness, because if they are not, this can reduce the officer’s probable cause for entering Pennington’s residence. Pennington v. West Virginia is pending before the Supreme Court of the United States.
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