CHICAGO, IL -- Cops who recovered drugs and guns in the apartment of a man facing eviction for not paying rent conducted a legal warrantless search, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Five months after Marcus Curlin stopped paying rent, his landlord in Indiana filed for an eviction order. When Curlin failed to appear in court, his landlord obtained a Writ of Restitution and Notice to Move.
The writ ordered police to evict Curlin and his belongings from the land and to sell his property as necessary to satisfy the order.
Curlin flouted the order for two weeks during which time the sheriff's office learned that Curlin was a convicted felon. When officers came to enforce the eviction, they discovered 15 grams of marijuana and three guns, including a SKS assault rifle and 12-gauge shotgun, in plain view during a "safety sweep" of the home.
He was arrested and charged with possession of firearms by a convicted felon.
Curlin moved to suppress the evidence, claiming that police had no right to enter his home or conduct the protective search.
An Indiana federal judge denied the motion, finding that the sweep was warranted for the officers' safety.
The 7th Circuit affirmed the ruling, but on independent grounds. Curlin could not reasonably expect privacy once he had been served notice of eviction, the three-judge panel found.
"Like a 'burglar plying his trade in a summer cabin during the off season,' Curlin's presence was 'wrongful,' and consequently any subjective expectation of privacy he may have had is not 'one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable,'" Judge Joel Flaum wrote for the court, quoting from the Supreme Court's 1978 decision in Rakas v. Illinois.
The officers would have discovered the evidence without the protective sweep while carrying out the eviction, the court noted. Even if Curlin had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Fourth Amendment would not have been violated because the officers were on the property legally and the guns were in plain view.
The opinion stressed that the ruling would not apply to a tenant who has paid rent.
"Had Curlin's landlord not obtained an eviction order of which Curlin had notice, the analysis would be different," Flaum wrote