Posted on 7/4/16

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The purpose of this amendment is to protect people’s right to privacy and from indiscriminate governmental intrusions. Nonetheless, law enforcement constantly pushes the limits of the Fourth Amendment, especially as it relates to drug possession.

The Innocent Knock

“Ding-dong,” rings the doorbell.

“Who is there?” asks the homeowner.

“It’s UPS, we are delivering a package,” responds a voice from the other side of the door.

Innocently, the homeowner opens the door and sees a man dressed as a UPS worker holding a large package. The delivery man offers to bring in the heavy package. The homeowner obliges and naively allows the delivery man to enter the house and bring in the package. While the homeowner profusely thanks the deliveryman, he looks around the house for a hint of drugs. He brings the package into the house, exits, and then drives away. Once out of sight, the delivery man, who is an undercover police officer, calls his supervisor at police headquarters and discloses what he saw.

The deliveryman might also give his credentials as a police officer once in the house. By simply using the ruse as a means to enter the house, which would be a Fourth Amendment violation had the police barged in, the police are able to gather information otherwise unavailable to them.

Court Decisions

Courts have generally stated that police deception does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Although the police officer lied about both his identity and purpose for entering a home, such a deception does not violate a person’s expected privacy rights. In the seminal case United States v. Baldwin, the Court found the defendant guilty of drug possession after an undercover police officer, who worked as a bartender and saw the defendant’s cocaine on the table, reported the drug possession to his superiors. The defendant argued that having an undercover police officer enter his house and place of business under false pretenses violated his Fourth Amendment rights to illegal search and seizure. The Court rejected his argument, reasoning that because the police officer entry was legal, i.e. with consent of the owner, and the police officer saw the drugs in plain view, there was no Fourth Amendment violation. Therefore, the defendant was guilty of drug possession.

Recent Trends

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case might change this line of thinking. In the case United States v. Jones, the police placed a GPS device on a defendant’s car to monitor movements on public roads. The Court found that such action violated the Fourth Amendment, even though the monitoring happened on public streets. As such, a defendant charged with drug possession garnered through police deception may succeed with a Fourth Amendment challenge.

If you are facing a drug possession charge, contact the law office of Christopher Abel, Esq. You have rights; Chris will protect those rights. Call or email him today.

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