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United States v. Weaver

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

September 4, 2015


Argued February 10, 2015

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:10-cr-00096-1).

Beverly G. Dyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender. Tony Axam, Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, entered an appearance.

Patricia A. Heffernan, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, and John P. Dominguez, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Before: HENDERSON, ROGERS and PILLARD, Circuit Judges.


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Pillard, Circuit Judge

This appeal requires us to answer a question left unresolved by the Supreme Court in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 126 S.Ct. 2159, 165 L.Ed.2d 56 (2006): Whether the exclusionary rule is applicable when law enforcement officers violate the Fourth Amendment's knock-and-announce rule while executing a warrant to arrest a suspect found at home.

The knock-and-announce rule requires that, before officers executing a warrant enter a home, they knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose, and then wait a reasonable time before forcibly entering. In Hudson, the Supreme Court held that, when officers violate that rule in executing a search warrant, exclusion of the evidence they find is not an appropriate remedy. The Court reasoned that the officers would have discovered the evidence in any event when they went through the house under the authority of the valid search warrant. As the Court emphasized, the knock-and-announce rule " has never protected" any " interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant." Id. at 594. Where officers armed with a search warrant have a judicially-sanctioned prerogative to invade the privacy of the home, the knock-and-announce violation does not cause the seizure of the disputed evidence. In that context, the exclusionary remedy's significant costs outweigh its minimal privacy-shielding role, and its deterrent utility is " not worth a lot." Id. at 596.

Unlike the officers in Hudson, who had a warrant to search the home, the officers here acted pursuant to a warrant to arrest a person. An arrest warrant reflects no judicial determination of grounds to search the home; rather, it evidences probable cause to believe that the arrestee has committed a crime, and authorizes his arrest wherever he might be found. If an arrestee is found away from home--at work, on the street, or at someone else's home--the privacy of his home remains inviolate. So, too, if an arrestee is not at home when officers seek him there, or if he comes to the door and makes himself available for arrest, the arrest warrant does not authorize officers to enter the home. Any prerogative an arrest

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warrant may confer to enter a home is thus narrow and highly contingent on the particular circumstances of the arrest.

An individual subject to an arrest warrant accordingly retains a robust privacy interest in the home's interior. That privacy interest is protected by requiring law enforcement officers executing an arrest warrant to knock, announce their identity and purpose, and provide the arrestee with the opportunity to come to the door before they barge in. And, where evidence is obtained because officers violated the knock-and-announce rule in executing an arrest warrant at the arrestee's home, the exclusionary rule retains its remedial force. Under Hudson 's own analytic approach, then, exclusion of the evidence may be an appropriate remedy.

Justice Kennedy took care to underscore in his separate opinion in Hudson that " the continued operation of the exclusionary rule, as settled and defined by our precedents, is not in doubt." Id. at 603. He provided the fifth vote for the majority opinion because the knock-and-announce violation before the court was " not sufficiently related to the later discovery of evidence to justify suppression." Id. The critical inquiry was there, as it is here, whether the knock-and-announce violation could " properly be described as having caused the discovery of evidence," id. at 604, and, if so, whether its costs outweigh its benefits. Where the " requirement of causation" that animates the exclusionary rule has not been obviated as it was by the search warrant in Hudson, id., and where the exclusionary rule retains remedial force to protect the core Fourth Amendment privacy interest in the home, cf. id. at 603-04, we consider it our duty to apply it.

We thus analyze the factors the Court considered in Hudson to determine whether the exclusionary rule applies when the knock-and-announce rule is violated in the arrest warrant context. We consider whether the violation causes the seizure of evidence such that evidentiary suppression furthers the interests underlying the knock-and-announce rule, and whether the benefits of applying the exclusionary rule outweigh its costs. Examining those factors, we conclude that exclusion was the appropriate remedy here, where officers executing a warrant for defendant Michael Weaver's arrest sought him at home, violated the knock-and-announce rule, and discovered Weaver's marijuana upon their forced entry into Weaver's apartment. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's decision to the contrary.


Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives began investigating defendant Michael Weaver in 2008, when he came to their attention during the course of a drug-related investigation targeting a different suspect. As part of their investigation into Weaver, the agents searched through trash outside his home and found marijuana. They also learned from the target of the first investigation that Weaver had sold drugs for more than a year and trafficked in significant quantities of marijuana. The agents executed a warrant to search Weaver's residence in late 2009 and discovered more than 500 grams of marijuana, $38,000 in cash, and drug packaging materials. The agents also reviewed Weaver's bank records and identified regular, unexplained cash deposits and a balance of more than $100,000 from unknown sources. In April 2010, the agents relied on that information to obtain a warrant for Weaver's arrest. Prosecutors indicted Weaver on 52 separate counts, including possession with intent

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to distribute marijuana and money laundering.

The government was unable to apprehend Weaver until 2012, when the agents learned the location of his new residence. After arriving at Weaver's building, the agents knocked on his apartment door twice. There was no answer, but the agents heard movement inside. They were not concerned that Weaver would flee out a window because the apartment was on a high floor. Less than a minute later, the agents announced " police" and immediately used a key they had obtained from the building's concierge to unlock the door. They did not inform Weaver that they had a warrant to arrest him. As the agents attempted to open the door, someone inside tried to hold the door closed. The officers were able to push the door open, and, after a brief struggle, they subdued Weaver, arrested him, and removed him from the apartment.

In the course of arresting Weaver, the officers smelled marijuana. One of the officers testified that as soon as he " came in" and " looked to the left" or " turned left" toward the kitchen, he observed " bags of marijuana" on the counter. Based on those observations, the officers obtained a search warrant for the apartment and found several kilograms of marijuana, two tablets of oxycodone, a bag of the drug methylenexdioxymethcathinone (commonly referred to as MDMC, or bath salts), and nearly $10,000 in cash. The government then charged Weaver with three additional counts: one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.

At trial, Weaver moved to suppress the evidence seized during the 2012 search of his apartment. He contended that the warrant authorizing that search derived solely from the observations agents made while executing the arrest warrants, and that the agents were not legally authorized to be in his apartment when they made those observations because they had violated the knock-and-announce rule. Weaver further argued that Hudson did not preclude the application of the exclusionary rule to his case.

The district court rejected Weaver's contentions and denied his motion to suppress. The district court first concluded that there was no knock-and-announce violation because the officers knocked, announced " police," and then waited a reasonable time before opening the door. Even if there had been a violation, the court held that Weaver would not prevail because it concluded that Hudson held the exclusionary rule inapplicable to knock-and-announce violations generally.

In a separate order, the district court held that Weaver's speedy trial rights were violated with respect to the first 52 counts of the indictment, and so dismissed them. The government then entered into an agreement with Weaver concerning the more recent counts of the indictment. The government dismissed the counts for possession of oxycodone and MDMC, and Weaver agreed to a bench trial on stipulated facts on the remaining charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. After that trial, the district court found Weaver guilty.

Weaver appeals the district court's denial of his suppression motion. On such an appeal, we review the court's legal conclusions de novo and its findings of fact for clear error. United States v. Pindell, 336 F.3d 1049, 1052, 357 U.S.App.D.C. 377 (D.C. Cir. 2003).



The Fourth Amendment protects " [t]he right of the people to be secure in

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their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. The constitutional reasonableness of a search or seizure in the home depends on, among other things, whether law enforcement officers have complied with the knock-and-announce rule. Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 931, 934, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976 (1995); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3109 (setting forth a statutory knock-and-announcement requirement). The rule requires, subject to exceptions not relevant here, that law enforcement officers executing a warrant--whether for search or arrest--knock on an individual's door, announce their identity and purpose, and then wait a reasonable amount of time before forcibly entering a home. Wilson, 514 U.S. at 934-36; see also United States v. Banks, 540 U.S. 31, 38-39, 124 S.Ct. 521, 157 L.Ed.2d 343 (2003); Sabbath v. United States, 391 U.S. 585, 588, 88 S.Ct. 1755, 20 L.Ed.2d 828 & n.2 (1968); Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301, 312-14, 78 S.Ct. 1190, 2 L.Ed.2d 1332 (1958).

Notwithstanding the district court's conclusion to the contrary, there is no dispute on this record that the constitutional safeguards imposed by the knock-and-announce rule were violated here. As the government correctly concedes on appeal, federal agents violated the rule by failing to announce their purpose before entering Weaver's apartment. Appellee Br. 19-20; see also Miller, 357 U.S. at 309-10; United States v. Wylie, 462 F.2d 1178, 1184-85, 149 U.S.App.D.C. 283 (D.C. Cir. 1972). Both parties also agree that unless the agents were legally present in Weaver's home when they viewed the marijuana, their observations could not serve as a lawful basis for the issuance of the search warrant. Appellee Br. 41 n.11; Appellant Br. 22-23; see Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 136, 110 S.Ct. 2301, 110 L.Ed.2d 112 (1990). If the officers' forcible entry into Weaver's home was unlawful, their presence in his home was also unlawful, and their observations could not serve as the basis for a search warrant. Consequently, the sole question before us is whether the exclusionary rule applies to evidence obtained as a result of a knock-and-announce violation committed when law enforcement officers execute an arrest warrant, as opposed to a search warrant.

Where it applies, the exclusionary rule prohibits the government from introducing in its case in chief evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081, 86 Ohio Law Abs. 513 (1961); Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 398, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, T.D. 1964 (1914). Evidentiary exclusion " compel[s] respect for the constitutional guaranty in the only effectively available way--by removing the incentive to disregard" the Fourth Amendment's commands. Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 217, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669 (1960). The Supreme Court has acknowledged, however, that exclusion is not appropriate in every case. Application of the rule is warranted only when its objectives are " most efficaciously served." United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 908, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2426-27, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011); Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135, 140-41, 129 S.Ct. 695, 172 L.Ed.2d 496 (2009). " Where suppression fails to yield 'appreciable deterrence,' exclusion is 'clearly unwarranted.'" Davis, 131 S.Ct. at 2426-27.


In Hudson, the Supreme Court considered whether exclusion was warranted

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when law enforcement officers violated the knock-and-announce rule while executing a search warrant. 547 U.S. at 588. Two factors governed its consideration: whether there was a causal link between the violation and the seizure of evidence and whether the rule's deterrence benefits outweighed the costs of excluding probative evidence.

As to causation, the Hudson Court reasoned that the exclusionary rule is only triggered when the constitutional violation is " a 'but-for' cause of obtaining evidence," provided that causal connection is not " too attenuated." Id. at 592. In Hudson, " the constitutional violation of an illegal manner of entry was not a but-for cause of obtaining the evidence." Id. That is because the knock-and-announce violation did not expand the breadth of the search authority conferred on the officers by the search warrant they had in hand, pursuant to which they already were privileged to obtain the incriminating evidence. Id.

Even if the knock-and-announce violation had been a but-for cause of obtaining the evidence, causation in Hudson was too attenuated. Id. at 592-93. Attenuation occurs " when the causal connection is remote." Id. at 593. Attenuation also occurs, the Court explained, when " the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee that has been violated would not be served by suppression of the evidence obtained." Id. Having held there was no but-for causation, the Court did not analyze whether causation was too remote. It did hold, however, that even if there were but-for causation, the interests protected by the knock-and-announce rule nonetheless would not, in the search warrant context, be served by suppression of the evidence obtained. Id. at 593-94. In that context, the Hudson Court observed, the knock-and-announce rule protects personal safety, property, and a residuum of privacy not obviated by the search warrant. It protects personal safety by preventing violence by a surprised resident. Id. at 594. It avoids destruction of the doorway of a house when officers forcibly open it instead of using the requisite knock and announcement of identity and purpose to summon the homeowner to the door. Id. And it " protects those elements of privacy and dignity that can be destroyed by a sudden entrance" by giving residents an opportunity " to pull on clothes[,] get out of bed," and otherwise " collect [themselves] before answering the door." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court emphasized that " the knock-and-announce rule has never protected . . . one's interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant." Id. As Justice Kennedy vividly pointed out, " [w]hen . . . a violation results from want of a 20-second pause but an ensuing, lawful search lasting five hours discloses evidence of criminality, the failure to wait at the door cannot properly be described as having caused the discovery of evidence." Id. at 603-04 (Kennedy, J., concurring). " [T]he interests that were violated . . . ha[d] nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence," leading the Court in Hudson to hold the exclusionary rule inapplicable. Id. at 594 (majority opinion).

The Court in Hudson separately examined whether the " deterrence benefits" of applying the exclusionary rule to violations of the knock-and-announce rule during search warrant executions " outweigh its substantial social costs." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The most significant of the " considerable" costs of applying the exclusionary rule is the " grave adverse consequence that exclusion of relevant incriminating evidence always entails,"

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namely " the risk of releasing dangerous criminals into society." Id. at 595. The Court cautioned that allowing an exclusionary remedy also could lead to a " flood" of defendants claiming knock-and-announce violations, which would require judicial resolution of complicated, fact-intensive issues. Id. It could also lead officers to wait longer than constitutionally required before entering a dwelling, and thus " produc[e] preventable violence against officers in some cases, and the destruction of evidence in many others." Id.

The Court weighed those costs against the deterrence value of applying the exclusionary rule in the search warrant context, which it concluded is minimal. Id. at 596. Violating the warrant requirement altogether often produces incriminating evidence not otherwise obtainable, see id., and the exclusionary rule is needed to blunt that incentive, see Mapp, 367 U.S. at 656; Elkins, 364 U.S. at 217. Violating the knock-and-announce requirement when executing a search warrant, by contrast, does not provide officers with an opportunity to obtain evidence that the warrant, already in hand, would not otherwise authorize them to get. Hudson, 547 U.S. at 596; see also id. at 592. (Where an unannounced entry is needed to serve important law enforcement interests, such as where officers have a reasonable suspicion that evidentiary destruction or life-threatening resistance would accompany a duly announced entry, the knock-and-announce requirement is suspended. Id. at 596.) The Court concluded that law enforcement officers armed with search warrants have scant incentive to violate the knock-and-announce rule; moreover, it noted, other deterrents--civil suits and the increasing professionalism of police forces--are sufficient to deter such violations. See id. at 596-99.

As a result of those considerations, the Court held that evidentiary exclusion was not required when officers violated the knock-and-announce rule in the course of executing a search warrant.



Hudson has not answered the question before us. The government argues, and the dissent agrees, that because the exclusionary rule was held inapplicable in Hudson, it is equally inapplicable here. We of course employ Hudson 's legal framework in considering whether the exclusionary remedy is appropriate here. But we cannot accept the government's contention that our analysis begins and ends with the outcome of Hudson. We must independently examine whether the logic of Hudson applies here to the same effect, or whether the arrest warrant context at issue here is so materially distinct that it requires a different result.

The government and dissent propose we follow an interpretation of Hudson that is divorced from its context. They contend that Hudson held that the exclusionary rule has no application to any violation of the knock-and-announce rule, regardless of whether the violation occurred during the execution of a warrant to search the home or to arrest a suspect. Dissent at 1. In their view, Hudson already held that the exclusionary rule is inapplicable whenever the knock-and-announce rule is violated--even where officers have only an arrest warrant and not a search warrant.

Hudson does not support that approach. The dissent plucks general statements from Hudson to argue that the Court intended its holding to extend beyond the search warrant context. See Dissent at

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1 & n.1; see also id. at 9-11. But the Court, contrary to the dissent's characterization, articulated the question before it in search-warrant-specific terms: The opening sentence of the opinion stated that the question presented was " whether violation of the 'knock-and-announce' rule requires the suppression of all evidence found in the search." 547 U.S. at 588 (emphasis added). The Court's reasoning was grounded in the context before it. When describing the interests the knock-and-announce rule protected, for example, it emphasized that " [w]hat the knock-and-announce rule has never protected . . . is one's interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant." Id. at 594 (emphasis added). Search warrants--and not arrest warrants--" describe" " evidence" and authorize officers to " take" that evidence. The precedents discussed and relied on by both the majority opinion and Justice Kennedy's concurrence are the Court's precedents concerning search warrants, see id. at 593 (discussing cases " excluding the fruits of unlawful warrantless searches" ), further suggesting that the Court did not conceive of its decision as sweepingly as the government contends.[1]

We reject the government's and the dissent's insistence that the issue here has already been decided by Hudson. It should go without saying that a holding can be understood only by reference to the context of the case in which it was rendered. See Phelps v. United States, 421 U.S. 330, 333-34, 95 S.Ct. 1728, 44 L.Ed.2d 201 (1975) (cautioning that the Court's statements must be " read in the context of the facts of th[e] case" before it); Armour & Co. v. Wantock, 323 U.S. 126, 132-33, 65 S.Ct. 165, 89 L.Ed. 118 (1944) (emphasizing that the Court's " opinions are to be read in the light of the facts of the case under discussion," as the Court cannot practically " writ[e] into them every limitation or variation which might be suggested by the circumstances of cases not before the Court." ).

The Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment cases vividly illustrate that the precise scope and limits of a constitutional principle articulated in one case often are not apparent until the Court has had opportunities to apply it in new situations that help to elucidate it. Compare Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1415-16, 185 L.Ed.2d 495 (2013) (holding that the use of a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner's porch was a search under the Fourth Amendment), with United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 707, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 77 L.Ed.2d 110 (1983) (holding that a sniff by a narcotics-detection dog of an individual's luggage did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment); see also Dissent at 6-7 (collecting cases charting the Court's incremental approach to creating exceptions to the exclusionary rule).

The Court in United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276, 278-79, 281-82, 103 S.Ct. 1081, 75 L.Ed.2d 55 (1983), for example, held that no search occurred and thus no warrant was required when officers tracked defendants' whereabouts by placing a radio transmitter in a drum of illicit drug ingredients, so that when defendants ...

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