Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The decision in United States v. Coles overturns a conviction for possession of crack cocaine and sharpens a split among the federal circuits in cases where police claim that a warrantless search was justified by "exigent circumstances." Prosecutors argued that the search of Terrence Coles' hotel room was valid because police heard rustling sounds and a flushing toilet soon after they announced their presence and therefore feared that evidence was being destroyed.
But defense attorney Jeffrey M. Lindy urged the court to focus on earlier events and argued that the police had no excuse for failing to obtain a warrant prior to approaching the hotel door in the first place. Voting 2-1, the court agreed with Lindy and held that the investigative tactics used by the officers had "impermissibly manufactured the exigency."
Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Leonard I. Garth noted that the agents at first used "subterfuge" to gain entry to the hotel room by falsely claiming they were "room service," and later that they were maintenance workers sent to fix a leak. It was only after those two attempts failed, Garth noted, that the officers identified themselves as police and then heard the toilet flushing. More from The Legal Intelligencer. . . [Mark Godsey]