Criminal Law Blog

“Do Not Disturb”: Fruits of Warrantless Entry into Motel Room Suppressed

 

Nyia Gore v. United States (decided August 18, 2016)

Players: Chief Judge Washington, Associate Judge Glickman, and Senior Judge Pryor. Opinion by Judge Glickman. Bryan P. MacAvoy for Ms. Gore. Trial Judge Zoe E. Bush.

Facts
: Officers Tobe and Collins responded to a 911 call at a Motel 6 in Northwest, Washington, D.C. The caller, Mr. Ward, met the officers in the parking lot and requested help retrieving property from Ms. Gore, who resided in a room with her two children and refused to let him back in. Mr. Ward showed the officers a text message from Ms. Gore that said she had “trashed [his] shit.”

The officers knocked and identified themselves. Ms. Gore opened the door but did not come out. When asked about the property, she stated she had already thrown it away outside. Officers told Ms. Gore she had committed a crime and would be arrested unless they could retrieve the property. Upon learning that Mr. Ward was present, Ms. Gore shouted for him and walked toward the doorway but was met and handcuffed by the police, who entered the room without her consent. Thus detained, Ms. Gore admitted destroying Mr. Gore’s property, which was still in the bathroom. Officer Tobe then escorted Mr. Ward to the bathroom where his property lay ripped, torn, and broken. Ms. Gore was later charged with and convicted for misdemeanor malicious destruction of property.

Issue 1: Whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction?

Holding 1: Yes. These circumstances do not permit the Court to second-guess the trial court’s determination of Mr. Ward’s credibility.

Issue 2: Whether Ms. Gore’s unwarned statements should have been suppressed under Miranda?

Holding 2: No. Ms. Gore’s freedom of movement was not restrained enough for her to be considered in custody, when the police were outside her door. The Court need not determine the admissibility of her subsequent unwarned statements under Miranda because it finds that they should have been suppressed under the Fourth Amendment (see below).

Issue 3: Whether fruits of the warrantless entry into Ms. Gore’s apartment should have been suppressed?

Holding 3: Yes. Although police had probable cause to believe that Ms. Gore had maliciously destroyed Mr. Ward’s property and perhaps even that evidence of that crime might be found in the room, there were no exigent circumstances to justify warrantless, nonconsensual entry. Officer Tobe’s testimony that police “could have” gotten a warrant did not prove inevitable discovery where the police had not begun that process at the time of entry.

Of Note:

  • By analogizing Ms. Gore’s room to a house, the Court of Appeals indirectly repudiates the trial court’s assessment that the police were allowed to enter with mere probable cause to arrest her. This analogy comports with well-settled Supreme Court caselaw. See Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293, 301 (1966); Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 490 (1964).
  • The house analogy is also the undoing of Ms. Gore’s Fifth Amendment claim, as the Court of Appeals cites home-based “knock and talk” cases to support that the attempt to interview her from outside the room was noncustodial: e.g., Hughes v. United States, 640 F.3d 428 (1st Cir. 2011);United States v. Titemore, 437 F.3d 251 (2d Cir. 2006). 
  • This analogy is not without complications. In Hughes, two law enforcement officers interviewed appellant in the living room of his relatively small, island house, while another was in the kitchen and still another wandered in and out of the house. 640 F.3d at 432. The First Circuit found this encounter noncustodial, noting, among other things, Hughes’s familiarity with the house and the lack of any attempt to “exploit its cozy confines.” Id. at 436. The Second Circuit found that Titemore had not been subject to custodial interrogation when police approached his lakeside Vermont home from a side door and asked to speak about a report of vandalism and a missing firearm. Titemore, 437 F.3d at 260. Police attempts to exploit aside, Ms. Gore’s motel room was arguably much “cozier” and less familiar than either of these settings. Advocates in future cases should emphasize the psychological impact of such circumstances where possible.  WC

Read full opinion here.