Friday, June 15, 2007
S.C. Upholds Search Based on Uncorroborated Anonymous Tip
Justices Approve Use of ‘Knock and Talk’ Technique to Gain Consent to Enter Residence
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to corroborate an anonymous tip before contacting the occupant of a residence and seeking consent to enter and search, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Overturning a contrary ruling by a divided panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One, the high court said officers may ask a homeowner for permission to search the residence even if they lack probable cause to believe that a suspect, or evidence of a crime, will be found there.
The decision sends the case of Juan Rivera back to the Court of Appeal, so that it may rule on whether police lawfully detained and searched him after finding him in an Oceanside resident’s tool shed. Justice Carol Corrigan said the issue was beyond the scope of the Supreme Court’s grant of review.
Rivera was arrested in January 2004 after police went to Maria Ortega’s home in response to an anonymous phone call saying that Rivera was there and that he had an outstanding arrest warrant.
Officer Scott Hunter testified that he obtained the owner’s consent to search the house, found the defendant sitting in the shed behind it, and arrested him after he identified himself and revealed that he had a knife under his clothing.
After San Diego Superior Court Judge Harry Mark Elias denied his motion to suppress, Rivera entered a negotiated guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal. He was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of a concealed “dirk or dagger.”
The Court of Appeal said the search was illegal because the officer failed to verify the existence of an arrest warrant or obtain corroboration for the anonymous tip. The court cited Florida v. J.L. (2000) 529 U.S. 266, holding that detention based on an uncorroborated anonymous tip is unconstitutional.
The high court held in that case that a tip that “a young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun” did not justify an investigatory stop of a black male in a plaid shirt — one of three black men standing at the bus stop —about six minutes after the tip was reported.
But Justice Carol Corrigan, writing yesterday for the state high court, said the J.L. ruling did not invalidate the traditional “knock and talk” rule. “Even if acting on an anonymous, uncorroborated tip, police may knock on the door of a residence, speak with the occupant, and request permission to enter and search,” the justice said.
Unlike the detention of the suspect in J.L., the contact between the officer and Ortega was “plainly consensual,” Corrigan said.
She cited People v. Jenkins (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 368, in which the court upheld the seizure of methamphetamine from a motel room on the basis of the occupant’s consent.
Reversing the trial court, the panel said officers followed lawful procedure by knocking on the door in the daytime, asking the occupant for her identification and inquiring as to whether she was on parole, asking her for permission to search after being told she was not on parole, and then searching the premises after obtaining that permission.
Corrigan rejected the contention that the knock-and-talk procedure is subject to abuse by officers willing to rely on tips from individuals who have no knowledge of a crime, but are merely seeking to embarrass people they don’t like.
“The sanctity of the home is not threatened when police approach a residence, converse with the homeowner, and properly obtain consent to search,” Corrigan said. “The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches of homes does not apply when voluntary consent to the search has been given by someone authorized to do so.”
The case is People v. Rivera, 07 S.O.S. 3153.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company