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United States v. Pile: A Permissible Protective Sweep after an Outside-the-Home Arrest

04/22/2016

United States v. Pile: A Permissible Protective Sweep after an Outside-the-Home Arrest

By Jimmy Martin

Introduction

Defendant Steven Pile appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress  certain evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant.[1]  Evoking the Supreme Court’s decision in Maryland v. Buie,[2] the Eighth Circuit reasoned that the protective sweep exception articulated by the Court in that case was properly applied by the district court.[3]  Significantly, the Eighth Circuit found that the protective sweep into Pile’s home was justified despite the fact that the arrest occurred outside the home, noting that the rationale in Buie[4] may extend beyond the home depending on the facts of the particular case.[5]

Background

In February 2013, law enforcement in Pulaski County, Arkansas arranged an undercover buy of methamphetamine from Pile at his camper, but Pile refused to sell to the officer after being introduced by a confidential informant.[6]  Despite the failed drug sale, the officers surveilling the scene opted to arrest Pile on several outstanding felony warrants.[7]  When approached by these officers outside his camper, Pile ran but was soon apprehended and subsequently brought back to the campsite by the officers, approximately fifteen feet away from his camper.[8]  After having been read his Miranda rights, Pile told the officers that his friend was inside the camper.[9]  At this point, one of the officers approached the side door of the camper, walked up the stairs, opened the door, and announced “Sheriff’s office.”[10]  The officer then looked through the doorway and saw an individual lying on the couch, and subsequently opened the door further and shouted again, asking the individual to exit the camper.[11]  As the person was exiting, the officer, still standing outside, noticed two glass pipes commonly used to smoke methamphetamine on a table inside the camper.[12]

Later, the police sought and obtained a warrant based on the officer’s observation of the pipes and the earlier postponed drug sale.[13]  During the execution of the warrant, law enforcement found the two glass pipes, along with other drug paraphernalia, a gun, and some ammunition.[14]

Court’s Analysis

The Eighth Circuit began by noting that generally, a warrantless search of a home is unreasonable.[15]  The court then noted that a “protective sweep,” a quick and limited search of the premises incident to an arrest, conducted to protect the safety of the officers or others, is authorized under Maryland v. Buie.[16]  The Supreme Court has stated that such sweep must be “narrowly confined to a cursory visual inspection of those places in which a person might be hiding,”[17] and must be based on “articulable facts which, taken together with the rationale inferences from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.”[18]

Based upon these facts, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the officer that opened the door had reasonable suspicion to conduct the sweep based upon Pile’s declaration that his friend was inside.[19]  Pile argued that the officer had searched for reasons unrelated to safety and thus the sweep had fallen outside the scope of the protective sweep exception.[20]  The court dismissed this point as immaterial even if true, concluding that given the unknown individual inside, a reasonable, experienced officer would be concerned with securing the arrest scene.[21]

Next, the court dismissed Pile’s arguments that the officer’s conduct fell outside Buie because Pile was already arrested and the arrest took place outside of the home.[22]  The court reasoned that a protective sweep may be conducted after arrest if there is a reasonable possibility that other persons may be present on the premises that pose a danger to law enforcement.[23]  Here, the court found that the officers could reasonably have perceived the unknown individual in the camper as a potential danger to those on the arrest scene.[24]

Finally, the court noted that it had previously applied the protective sweep exception in similar situations where an arrest had occurred outside a structure that officers subsequently search, including arrests outside a barn and outside a home.[25]  Further, the court noted that the Supreme Court in Buie had been concerned with dangers posed to those on the arrest scene, and that the Court was not just concerned with in-home arrests.[26]  Consequently, the Eighth Circuit found that the rationale supporting Buie—safety of police and others on scene—may extend beyond a home’s four walls.

Author’s Analysis

The court properly extended Buie’s rationale in this case, in that the interest in securing the scene of arrest and ensuring the safety of law enforcement and others is a compelling one.  The court probably should have cited to Payton v. New York, to remind law enforcement that the Fourth Amendment “has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house.”[27]  While the officer here did not cross the threshold, he did push the door open twice, and as such came fairly close.  Still, it was ultimately an observation of items inside the house that were in plain view.

In this case the court also leaves open to interpretation from how far away law enforcement may return an arrestee to outside his home so as to justify a protective sweep of the home.  How far away must Pile have run to keep his home within the purview of the arrest scene?  It makes sense that if one has recently run from the home, as here, that the home may logically constitute the arrest scene, but this concept of securing the arrest scene becomes less clear if police simply find a defendant in the woods some distance from his home.  Still, Pile’s admission that his friend was nearby undoubtedly tips the balance in favor of justified police action under Buie.

Conclusion

On these facts, the Eighth Circuit properly extended the rationale of Buie and the law enforcement interest in securing the scene of arrest to Pile’s case.  Moving forward, it will be worth noting how the scene of arrest concept may evolve.


Jimmy Martin*
Edited by Tyler Winn

Footnotes

[1] United States v. Pile, No. 15-1882, 2016 WL 1398088, at *1 (8th Cir. Apr. 11, 2016).

[2] Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990).

[3] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088, at *3.

[4] Buie, 494 U.S. 325.

[5] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088, at *2.

[6] Id. at *1.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088, at *1.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088, at *2 (citing United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705, 717 (1984)).

[16] Id. (citing Buie, 494 U.S. at 337).

[17] Buie, 494 U.S. at 327.

[18] Id. at 334.

[19] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088 at *2.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. It is also worth noting that the Eighth Circuit adopted the district court’s finding of fact that the camper was Pile’s home. Id. at *1 n.2.

[23] Pile, 2016 WL 1398088, at *2.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980).

* Saint Louis University Law School, J.D. Candidate, 2017.