Law Enforcement Bulletin

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > January 2013 > U.S. v. Collins, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nor

Law Enforcement Bulletin RSS feeds

U.S. v. Collins, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota), Nov. 14, 2012

Question: Is a person’s consent to search coerced, and therefore invalid, when peace officers warn the person of the legal consequences of refusing to cooperate?
Quick answer: No.

Facts: Law enforcement obtained an arrest warrant for Travis Collins based on a parole violation. Two officers received a tip that Collins was staying at a house in Des Moines, so the officers drove to the home to execute the warrant. After confirming with the home’s landlord that Collins had been there recently, the officers knocked on the front door multiple times over the course of several minutes. Finally the tenant of the home, Krista Stoekel, came to the door. She denied knowing Collins and denied the officers permission to look for him inside. One officer explained that he had reason to believe Collins was there and wanted to search inside. Stoekel again denied the officer’s request and denied knowing Collins several times, assuring the officers that she was alone in the home. But the same officer told Stoekel that Collins was wanted for a parole violation and that he didn’t want her “to get into trouble.” Stoekel became emotional, so the officer accused her of lying to him. She finally admitted to knowing Collins and told the officers, “He may have come home last night” while pointing upstairs. The officers asked for permission to go upstairs, and Stoekel replied, “Fine.” They found Collins in a bedroom, arrested him, and saw a gun lying next to him in an open bag. Collins moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers’ entry into the home was based on invalid, coerced consent.
Why this case is important: The court found that the consent given was valid. Law enforcement has limited authority to enter a person’s home when they have an arrest warrant for that person. But when the person is located inside a third party’s home, the only ways officers may enter to make the arrest is with a search warrant, exigent circumstances, or consent. Here, Collins was inside Stoekel’s residence, so the officers needed Stoekel’s consent before entering. Although she denied the officers permission at first, her eventual consent was valid. Consent must be voluntary, and voluntariness is determined from the totality of the circumstances. Here, Stoekel was old enough to rent the home, and the fact that she initially denied the officers’ requests showed she was aware of her legal right to refuse consent. The fact that one officer told Stoekel she may get into trouble for not cooperating does not equal coercion. Nor was her reluctant “fine” mere acquiescence to a false claim of police authority. The officers were trying to execute a valid arrest warrant, and the officer’s warning to Stoekel was an accurate statement that she could get charged with a crime. Stoekel may have been induced to cooperate, but induced cooperation does not equal unreasonable coercion.
Keep in mind: There is no harm in telling a person what the legal consequences are when trying to obtain that person’s consent. Be careful in your demeanor and how you deliver that message, though, because determining the voluntariness of consent is based on the totality of the circumstances in getting a person’s consent.
Visit the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals  website to view the entire opinion.