127 F.3d 663 (8th Cir. 1997), 97-1085, United States v. Conner

Docket Nº:97-1085.
Citation:127 F.3d 663
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. Larry Duane CONNER, Appellee. UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. John Charles TILTON, Appellee.
Case Date:October 08, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 663

127 F.3d 663 (8th Cir. 1997)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,


Larry Duane CONNER, Appellee.

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,


John Charles TILTON, Appellee.

No. 97-1085.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

October 8, 1997

Submitted June 12, 1997.

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Steven M. Colloton, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Sioux City, IA, argued, for appellant.

Kevin W. Techau, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Des Moines, IA, argued, for appellee.

Before MURPHY, HEANEY and NORRIS, 1 Circuit Judges.

HEANEY, Circuit Judge.

The government appeals the district court's suppression of evidence obtained after police demanded entry into a motel room rented by appellants. We affirm.


On February 22, 1996, a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Iowa returned separate two-count indictments against Larry Duane Conner and John Charles Tilton charging each with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and with possession of a stolen firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). Both defendants moved to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant authorizing the search of Room 31 at the Elmdale Motel in Sioux City, Iowa. Conner also moved to suppress evidence seized from his home pursuant to a warrant. Conner and Tilton argued that the court should suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the warrants because police used illegal methods to obtain the information relied on to establish the probable cause to issue the search warrant. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the motions to suppress. The court agreed that essential information in the search warrant affidavits was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court rejected the government's contention that the evidence

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was admissible under either the good-faith exception or the independent-source exception.

We find no clear error in the district court's detailed factual findings. See United States v. McMurray, 34 F.3d 1405, 1409 (8th Cir.1994) (standard of review) (citations omitted). Police in Sioux City, Iowa were investigating a burglary that occurred in late December 1995. The victim had given police a detailed description of the stolen items, which included a large coin collection, jewelry, silver place settings, and three handguns. Several days after the burglary, police received an anonymous telephone call reporting that Larry Conner and John Tilton had committed the burglary and that they were staying at an unknown hotel or motel in Sioux City. According to the caller, Conner and Tilton had the coins with them and they were preparing to leave the city later that day to dispose of the stolen property. They reportedly had been driving a red Pontiac Fiero with Iowa license plate WEH624.

Based on the anonymous tip, police checked area motels and hotels for the red Fiero. Because three handguns had been taken in the burglary, the investigators believed that Conner and Tilton might be armed. Two Sioux City police detectives located the Fiero in front of Room 31 at the Elmdale Motel and called for backup. In all, six police officers were on the scene; only one was in uniform. Sergeant Young, the officer in charge, testified that he planned to knock on the front door of the room and attempt to speak to individuals inside about the burglary. He incorrectly assumed that one of the other officers had checked with the motel office to ascertain who had rented Room 31. In fact, at the time the officers approached Room 31, they did not know that Conner had rented the room. The officers approached Room 31 solely because they observed the red Fiero parked in front of it.

Two officers, including Sergeant Young, went to the door of Room 31; two others positioned themselves by the room's picture window; and two officers took up positions behind the motel. One of the officers, who knew nothing about the burglary except what he had been told when he arrived at the motel, noticed packages of coins on the windowsill between the room's curtains and window. He attempted to draw the coins to the attention of the officer in charge, but no other officer noticed the gesture or the coins on the windowsill.

An officer knocked on the door and identified himself as a police officer. No one in the room responded. The officer knocked again, and announced a second time that he was a police officer. One of the officers stationed by the window saw someone move aside the drawn curtains and look out of the window. In response, the police repositioned themselves for better protection, and at least one officer drew his pistol and held it behind his back. The officer at the door knocked again and announced the police presence. In addition, Sergeant Young shouted, "Open up," in a voice loud enough to be heard by a motel resident two rooms away. The officers were loud enough to awaken another guest and cause her to step out of her room under the mistaken belief that the police were knocking at her door.

Shortly after the officers' third attempt, Tilton opened the door to the room. The district court explicitly found that Tilton opened the door in response to Sergeant Young's command. When Tilton opened the door, officers observed what appeared to be foreign currency, coins, and envelopes the size of currency on the bed and blue, gold, and maroon boxes matching the victim's description scattered throughout the room. Believing that the currency and other materials were related to the burglary, Sergeant Young drew his weapon on Tilton, ordered him to back away from the door, and placed him under arrest. Another officer found Conner in the bathroom and arrested him as well.

The officers stayed in the motel room to secure the evidence but did not conduct a search of the room until they obtained a warrant. The search warrant application included the following information: "Officers knocked on the [motel] door and identified themselves and Mr. Tilton opened the door. At that time, in plain view were coin rolls and coin sets throughout the room." The police obtained a search warrant for the motel room

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and seized a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, a Colt pistol, coins, three large briefcases, and other items believed to have been taken during the burglary. After searching the room, police obtained a warrant for Conner's residence in Sloan, Iowa based on the same facts used to support the first warrant and a list of the items seized from the motel room. During the search of Conner's house, law enforcement officers seized items they believed had also been taken during the burglary.


Based on these facts, we agree with the district court that the officers' entry into the motel room and arrest of the occupants violated Conner's and Tilton's Fourth Amendment rights. It is a well-established constitutional principle that law enforcement officers may not enter a person's home without a warrant unless the entry is justified by exigent circumstances or the consent of the occupant. Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 211, 101 S.Ct. 1642, 1647, 68 L.Ed.2d 38 (1981); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1380, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980). In Payton, the Supreme Court explained that no zone of privacy is more clearly defined than a person's home: "[T]he Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant." 445 U.S. at 590, 100 S.Ct. at 1382. The same protection against unreasonable searches and seizures extends to a person's privacy in temporary dwelling places such as hotel or motel rooms. Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293, 301, 87 S.Ct. 408, 413, 17 L.Ed.2d 374 (1966); Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 490, 84 S.Ct. 889, 893-94, 11 L.Ed.2d 856 (1964); United States v. Rambo, 789 F.2d 1289, 1295 (8th Cir.1986).

The government contends that Payton does not apply because the police did not "enter" the motel room; they merely observed contraband in plain view when Tilton opened the door. In other words, the government asserts that Conner and Tilton voluntarily engaged with the police at the motel. See United States v. Deanda, 73 F.3d 825, 825-26 (8th Cir.1996) (person who opens door voluntarily or in response to a simple knock by police knowingly exposes to the public anything that can be seen through the door thereby defeating any possible Fourth Amendment arguments because it involves no "search."); United States v. Peters, 912 F.2d 208, 210 (8th Cir.1990) (same). The district court, however, correctly determined that an unconstitutional search occurs when officers gain visual or physical access to a motel room after an occupant opens the door not...

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