451 U.S. 204 (1981), 79-6777, Steagald v. United States

Docket NºNo. 79-6777
Citation451 U.S. 204, 101 S.Ct. 1642, 68 L.Ed.2d 38
Party NameSteagald v. United States
Case DateApril 21, 1981
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 204

451 U.S. 204 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1642, 68 L.Ed.2d 38



United States

No. 79-6777

United States Supreme Court

April 21, 1981

Argued January 14, 1981




Pursuant to an arrest warrant for one Lyons, Drug Enforcement Administration agents entered petitioner's home to search for Lyons without first obtaining a search warrant. In the course of searching the home, the agents found cocaine and other incriminating evidence, but did not find Lyons. Petitioner was then arrested and indicted on federal drug charges. His pretrial motion to suppress all evidence uncovered during the search of his home on the ground that it was illegally obtained because the agents had failed to obtain a search warrant was denied by the District Court, and petitioner was convicted. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The Government is precluded from contending in this Court that petitioner lacked an expectation of privacy in his searched home sufficient to prevail on his Fourth Amendment claim where this argument was never raised in the courts below, but, rather, the Government had made contrary assertions in those courts, and acquiesced in their contrary findings. Pp. 208-211.

2. The search in question violated the Fourth Amendment where it took place in the absence of consent or exigent circumstances. Pp. 211-222.

(a) Absent exigent circumstances or consent, a home may not be searched without a warrant. Two distinct interests were implicated by the search in this case -- Lyons' interest in being free from an unreasonable seizure and petitioner's interest in [101 S.Ct. 1644] being free from an unreasonable search of his home. Because the arrest warrant for Lyons addressed only the former interest, the search of petitioner's home was no more reasonable from petitioner's perspective than it would have been if conducted in the absence of any warrant. The search therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 211-216.

(b) Common law, contrary to the Government's assertion, does not furnish precedent for upholding the search in question, but rather sheds little light on the narrow issue presented of whether an arrest warrant, as opposed to a search warrant, is adequate to protect the Fourth Amendment interests of persons not named in the warrant when their home is searched without their consent and in the absence of exigent

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circumstances. Moreover, the history of the Fourth Amendment strongly suggests that its Framers would not have sanctioned the search in question. Pp. 217-220.

(e) A search warrant requirement, under the circumstances of this case, will not significantly impede effective law enforcement efforts. An arrest warrant alone suffices to enter a suspect's own residence, and, if probable cause exists, no warrant is required to apprehend a suspected felon in a public place. Moreover, the exigent circumstances doctrine significantly limits the situations in which a search warrant is needed. And in those situations in which a search warrant is necessary, the inconvenience incurred by the police is generally insignificant. In any event, whatever practical problems there are in requiring a search warrant in cases such as this, they cannot outweigh the constitutional interest at stake in protecting the right of presumptively innocent people to be secure in their homes from unjustified forcible intrusions by the government. Pp. 220-222.

606 F.2d 540 and 615 F.2d 642, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., concurred in the judgment. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 223.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether, under the Fourth Amendment, a law enforcement officer may legally search for the subject of an arrest warrant in the home of a third party without first obtaining a search warrant. Concluding that a search warrant must be obtained absent exigent circumstances

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or consent, we reverse the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirming petitioner's conviction.


In early January, 1978, an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was contacted in Detroit, Mich., by a confidential informant who suggested that he might be able to locate Ricky Lyons, a federal fugitive wanted on drug charges. On January 14, 1978, the informant called the agent again and gave him a telephone number in the Atlanta, Ga., area where, according to the informant, Ricky Lyons could be reached during the next 24 hours. On January 16, 1978, the agent called fellow DEA Agent Kelly Goodowens in Atlanta and relayed the information he had obtained from the informant. Goodowens contacted Southern Bell Telephone Co., and secured the address corresponding to the telephone number obtained by the informant. Goodowens also discovered that Lyons was the subject of a 6-month-old arrest warrant.

Two days later, Goodowens and 11 other officers drove to the address supplied by the telephone company to search for Lyons. The officers observed two men standing outside the house to be searched. These men were Hoyt Gaultney and petitioner Gary Steagald. The officers approached with guns drawn, frisked both men, and, after demanding identification, determined that neither man was Lyons. Several [101 S.Ct. 1645] agents proceeded to the house. Gaultney's wife answered the door, and informed the agents that she was alone in the house. She was told to place her hands against the wall and was guarded in that position while one agent searched the house. Ricky Lyons was not found, but, during the search of the house, the agent observed what he believed to be cocaine. Upon being informed of this discovery, Agent Goodowens sent an officer to obtain a search warrant, and in the meantime conducted a second search of the house, which uncovered

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additional. incriminating evidence. During a third search conducted pursuant to a search warrant, the agents uncovered 43 pounds of cocaine. Petitioner was arrested and indicted on federal drug charges.

Prior to trial, petitioner moved to suppress all evidence uncovered during the various searches on the ground that it was illegally obtained because the agents had failed to secure a search warrant before entering the house. Agent Goodowens testified at the suppression hearing that there had been no "physical hinderance" preventing him from obtaining a search warrant, and that he did not do so because he believed that the arrest warrant for Ricky Lyons was sufficient to justify the entry and search. The District Court agreed with this view, and denied the suppression motion. Petitioner was convicted, and renewed his challenge to the search in his appeal. A divided Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of petitioner's suppression motion. United States v. Gaultney, 606 F.2d 540 (1979).1 Because the issue presented by this case is an important one2 that has divided the Circuits,3 we granted certiorari. 449 U.S. 819.

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The Government initially seeks to avert our consideration of the Fifth Circuit's decision by suggesting that petitioner may, regardless of the merits of hat decision, lack an expectation of privacy in the house sufficient to prevail on his Fourth Amendment claim. This argument was never raised by the Government in the courts below. Moreover, in its brief in opposition to certiorari, the Government represented

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to this Court.that the house in question was "petitioner's residence," and was "occupied by petitioner, Gaultney, and Gaultney's wife." Brief in Opposition 1, 3. However, the Government now contends that the record does not clearly show that petitioner had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the house, and hence urges us to remand the case to the District Court for reexamination of this factual question.

We decline to follow the suggested disposition. Aside from arguing that a search warrant was not constitutionally required, the Government was initially entitled to defend against petitioner's charge of an unlawful search by asserting that petitioner lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the searched home, or that he consented to the search, or that exigent circumstances justified the entry. The Government, however, may lose its right to raise factual issues of this sort before this Court when it has made contrary assertions in the courts below, when it has acquiesced in contrary findings by those courts, or when it has failed to raise such questions in a timely fashion during the litigation.

We conclude that this is such a case. The Magistrate's report on petitioner's suppression motion, which was adopted by the District Court, characterized the issue as whether an arrest warrant was sufficient to justify the search of "the home of a third person" for the subject of the warrant. App. 12. The Government never sought to correct this characterization on appeal, and instead acquiesced in the District Court's view of petitioner's Fourth Amendment claim. Moreover, during both the trial and the appeal in this case, the Government argued successfully that petitioner's connection with the searched home was sufficient to establish his constructive possession of the cocaine found in a suitcase in the closet of the house.4 Moreover, the Court of Appeals concluded, as

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had the Magistrate and the District Court, that petitioner's Fourth Amendment claim involved the type of warrant necessary to search "premises belonging to a third party." 606 F.2d at 544. Again, the Government declined to disturb this characterization. When petitioner sought review in this Court, the Government could have filed a...

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