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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > March 2013 > U.S. v. Shaw, U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Feb. 21, 2013

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U.S. v. Shaw, U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Feb. 21, 2013

Question: May law enforcement officers make potentially false statements in an attempt to serve an arrest warrant inside a home?
Quick Answer: No.

Facts: Two police officers attempted to locate an address to serve an arrest warrant for a Phyllis Brown. When they got near the address, they couldn’t find the specific house number, 3171, but found two different homes on opposite sides of the street that had a 3170 address. One of the homes was occupied and the other wasn’t, so the officers approached the occupied home. The officers knocked on the front door, and a woman answered but immediately slammed the door shut when she saw police. The officers repeatedly knocked and demanded that someone answer the door. Seven or eight minutes later, the same woman again answered the door. The officers explained that they had a warrant “for this house,” so the woman let them inside. None of the five occupants in the home looked at the warrant, but one asked, “What address are you looking for?” The officers misled the occupants, saying they were looking for house number 3170. The occupants then misled officers, saying they were at 3171. The officers performed a protective sweep of the home. They didn’t find Phyllis Brown, but they did find a significant amount of cocaine. The officers arrested the home’s resident, Steven Shaw, on several federal drug charges. The home’s actual address was 3170, so Shaw filed a motion to suppress the evidence based on Fourth Amendment violations.
Why this case is important: Because the officers didn’t take reasonable steps to ensure they were at the correct address, their gamble violated Shaw’s constitutional rights. As part of law enforcement investigation tactics, officers are permitted to lie, but the court has drawn a hard line about (1) lying about having an arrest warrant for a home, and (2) using that lie to gain entry into the home. In this case, the officers made a false claim of legal authority, and neither case law nor law enforcement policy permits such a practice. The officers weren’t at fault for approaching the occupied home, but they could have asked for the home’s address at the outset verified which sides of the street had odd- and even-numbered homes. They also could have located the correct address on the Internet, but instead chose to lie to the home’s occupants about having an arrest warrant “for this address.” 
No exigent circumstances existed to justify the officers’ lies to gain entry. When the woman slammed the door in the officers’ faces, the officers never reported that they heard frantic movement or yelling inside the home, which would possibly suggest destruction of evidence. And the same woman answered the door minutes later, suggesting that she wasn’t Phyllis Brown and trying to avoid arrest.
Keep in mind: You can’t lie to gain entry into someone’s home when you aren’t sure you have a legal right to be there. When serving an arrest warrant, take the necessary steps to ensure you are in the right location and you know who you are looking for.
Visit the U.S. Sixth Circuit’s website to view the entire opinion.