U.S. v. Mendoza

Decision Date21 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. 00-3631.,00-3631.
Citation281 F.3d 712
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. James Ray MENDOZA, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

William H. Koch, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, argued (Eric P. Johnson, Asst. U.S. Attorney, on the brief), for appellant.

Jerrod M. Smith, Minneapolis, MN, argued, for appellee.

Before MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD and BYE, Circuit Judges, and GAITAN,1 District Judge.

GAITAN, District Judge.

This case presents the issues of whether a resident of a duplex possesses a legitimate privacy interest in the common entry vestibule, and whether law enforcement agents, who possess a warrant and announce their presence and purpose, must knock when the door to the dwelling has been removed from its hinges. Appellant, the United States, appeals from the District Court ruling which suppressed the evidence retrieved from James Mendoza's home on the grounds that the search was unreasonable.

Several days prior to June 5, 2000, the Minneapolis Police Department received a tip from a confidential reliable informant that Mendoza possessed a pound of heroin at his home, the lower unit, 1021 19th Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mendoza apparently showed the heroin to the informant when he took a padlocked duffle bag from under his bed and opened it to reveal the drugs. Officers checked with the utility company and learned that the utilities to the lower unit of the duplex were in Mendoza's name. In addition, the officers obtained a photograph of Mendoza from prior arrests and showed it to the informant, who confirmed Mendoza was the individual in possession of the heroin. The officers sought and obtained a warrant based upon the tip.

Mendoza's residence is a multifamily dwelling (a "duplex") with an upper and lower unit. There is one single main door located on the right front of the home. The door has peep hole, small knocker and a lock, which was not latched at the time of entry. To the left of the door there are two mailboxes. The warrant indicated in three places that the dwelling contained two residences, a lower and an upper unit, and that Mendoza was located in the lower unit.

On June 5, 2000, at around 6:30 p.m., approximately six to eight police officers arrived at Mendoza's home. The officers were wearing raid gear which consisted of vests and jackets with "Police" on the front. An adult and Mendoza's son, who was thirteen, and his son's friend, fourteen, among others, were talking in the front yard. The officers approached the house and were shouting "Police!", as were the individuals in the yard.

The officers entered the common door into an open vestibule while shouting "Police!" Upon entering the vestibule the officers saw Mendoza's doorway to the left and stairs directly in front of them, which led to the upper unit. Mendoza's paramour, Ms. Brandon, resided in the upper unit. Mendoza's door was off the hinges completely and the apartment was open to the vestibule. The officers then shouted "Police! Warrant!" and entered Mendoza's residence where they conducted a protective sweep throughout the unit. They found Mendoza repairing the bathroom and brought him to the living room.

Mendoza was charged by indictment on June 20, 2000. The original two-count indictment alleged the defendant possessed methamphetamine and heroin with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. A superseding indictment was filed by the United States on September 7, 2000 to conform to the charges of the Supreme Court decision Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000). This two-count indictment alleged that Mendoza possessed methamphetamine in excess of 50 grams with the intent to distribute 100 grams of heroin, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B).

On August 11, 2000, Mendoza moved the court for an order suppressing the evidence obtained in the search and seizure of the his home. After a hearing, the United States Magistrate Judge, Jonathan Lebedoff, issued a report and recommendation that advised the suppression of the evidence seized as a result of the search of defendant's apartment. The report and recommendation concluded that the officers should have knocked on the front door of the duplex and that once the officers entered the common vestibule area and found the door off the hinges, they should have knocked a second time on the lower unit's door frame. The District Court adopted the findings of the report and recommendation and ordered the suppression of the evidence.

I. Discussion

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. When examining if a search is reasonable, courts consider "all the circumstances of the particular governmental invasion of a citizen's personal security." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Here, Mendoza asserts two bases for suppressing the evidence adduced as a result of the search: (1) that the government violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they entered the main door of the duplex without knocking; and (2) the officers, once inside the duplex vestibule, should have knocked on the door jamb before entering his front door.

A. The First Door

Mendoza maintains he had a constitutionally protected interest of privacy in the first door, which opened into the duplex vestibule. He asserts, moreover, this door was his front door and that the vestibule constituted his "home" for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis. Accordingly, he reasons, the officers should have knocked on that door and announced their presence and purpose there, instead of entering that door and approaching the interior doorway.

The threshold inquiry is whether Mendoza had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the common area entryway of the duplex, which would have required the officers to knock and announce their presence. "[T]he person challenging the search has the burden of showing both a subjective expectation of privacy and that the expectation is objectively reasonable; that is, one that society is willing to accept." United States v. McCaster, 193 F.3d 930, 933 (8th Cir.1999); accord Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 96-97, 110 S.Ct. 1684, 109 L.Ed.2d 85 (1990) (recognizing the reasonable expectation of privacy in a dwelling for an overnight guest); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 130 n. 1, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). Several factors have been identified as relevant to this showing: "whether the party has a possessory interest in the things seized or the place searched; whether the party can exclude others from that place; whether the party took precautions to maintain the privacy; and whether the party had a key to the premises." Id. (citations omitted).

In applying this test, we have repeatedly held that tenants of multifamily dwellings have no legitimate expectation of privacy in common or shared areas. See McCaster, 193 F.3d 930 (defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a duplex hallway's closet); United States v. McGrane, 746 F.2d 632 (8th Cir.1999) (no legitimate expectation of privacy in a basement storage locker in a multifamily dwelling, to which other residents had access); United States v. Eisler, 567 F.2d 814 (8th Cir.1977) (no legitimate expectation of privacy in a conversation that took place in an apartment building hallway). Mendoza urges this case is distinguishable from our prior decisions because he shared the duplex with "his children, girlfriend and her children." Specifically, he contends "the occupants of the duplex treated the upper unit, the lower unit, and the vestibule as communal space." In finding that Mendoza had a legitimate expectation of privacy, the District Court focused only upon his subjective expectation and not whether that expectation was objectively reasonable. To amount to a protectable expectation of privacy, however, the expectation must be tested for reasonableness.

The factors applied to examine if a subjective expectation is objectively reasonable relate to both property interests, and whether the individual claiming the right took measures to protect those interests. In the instant case, Mendoza did nothing that would lead the officers to believe he had a protectable interest in the common area of his duplex. He made no efforts to secure the outer door. Moreover, because the door was not latched and there remained two mailboxes to its left, there was no signal to the officers that knocking on the outer door would have been necessary.2 As for any property interest in the common entry door and vestibule, Mendoza had none which would mandate protection. For example, it is doubtful the landlord would have allowed Mendoza to sublet the vestibule. It is also unlikely that Mendoza could have excluded individuals from Ms. Brandon's unit. The only support he provides that he had an interest in the upper unit is that his young daughter ran up to it, and that his door was off its hinges. It was the District Court that surmised the missing door was to facilitate free movement, and that extrapolation creates more questions than answers. What if Ms. Brandon grew tired of Mendoza, could she have excluded him from her unit? What if a delivery person wanted to take a package to Ms. Brandon's door-could Mendoza have barred his entry? What about Ms. Brandon's door-was it completely off the hinges-did she want to facilitate free movement? What may be even more disconcerting, however, is Mendoza's contradiction within his brief. After asserting in his statement of facts that "the door to the lower portion of the duplex was off the hinges due to repairs...," he defends his subjective belief of one unified living space by...

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