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UNITED STATES v. EVANS

May 9, 1961

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Eugene E. EVANS, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: YOUNGDAHL

Defendant, charged in five counts with larceny and housebreaking, has moved prior to trial to suppress as evidence against him certain property taken by the police from his apartment.

In the view which the Court takes of this case, the following undisputed facts and testimony are relevant: On August 26, November 23, and November 26, 1960, three separate robberies took place in the District of Columbia. Taken in the first were some sweaters, some other clothing, and two suitcases. Taken in the second, which victimized Mitchel's Sport Shop, were a sewing machine and table, and assorted types of athletic outfits. The third yielded a television set. Each occurrence, including a description of the missing property, was reported separately to the police.

 On November 25, two days after the Sport Shop incident, the police received a call from an unidentified woman, inquiring whether they had a report that a sewing machine had been stolen, and informing them that if they did, they might search for Eugene Evans who lived at 1401 Girard Street, and who, said the caller, had possession of a stolen sewing machine. The informant, as she later admitted at the hearing of this motion, was the defendant's wife; her secret call to the police followed an argument between the couple.

 On December 1, Police Detective Talbot, who as indicated, had previously learned the type of equipment taken from Mitchel's Sport Shop, was told by a 'reliable informant * * * that he had been approached by (Eugene) Evans to sell him some warm-up jackets and athletic shirts.' (Tr. 85). The next day, Detective Talbot, accompanied by Detective Knotts, went to the Sport Shop. The officers spoke with the owner, Mitchel Sklar, learned that he did not know Eugene Evans, and were shown tables and sewing machines of the type stolen. They were also asked by Mr. Sklar whether

 'They had received any information on this (disappearance of the sewing machine and table), whether they had gotten it back or not. They said they didn't, but they were looking at it and had some information that they might be able to return it to me.' (Tr. 125)

 At the conclusion of this conversation, Detective Talbot 'asked him (Mr. Sklar) to accompany us over to the (defendant's) apartment.' (Tr. 86)

 Thus, at about 1:30 p.m. on December 2, possessed of the above information and knowing, moreover, that defendant's apartment was approximately 100 feet from the Sport Shop -- but without warrants either for arrest or for search and seizure -- this group of two officers, in plain-clothes, and Mr. Sklar, went to defendant's apartment in the basement of 1401 Girard Street.

 There is considerable dispute in the testimony over the announcement the police made which caused defendant to open a hallway door (door 'A') -- whether they said 'police' or asked for the janitor (defendant was not the janitor); over the exact conversation which occurred at the door after it was opened and Detective Talbot showed a badge to defendant -- whether defendant said, as testified by the Detective and Mr. Sklar, words similar to 'come in' or 'come back this way'; over the question of whether the corridor behind door 'A' was a part of defendant's home for Fourth Amendment purposes; over the exact moment after the group's arrival at door 'B' (halfway down the corridor behind door 'A', and opening directly into defendant's living room) some of the items reported stolen were spotted by the police and Mr. Sklar; over the exact time at which Detective Talbot formally told defendant that he was under arrest -- whether it occurred on the threshold of door 'B' or after part of the ensuing search of the three rooms of the apartment and of the closet of one of them had been completed; and over the length of time the search took. There is no dispute that a search without a warrant occurred and that the items sought to be suppressed -- the fruits of the three robberies -- were seized. *fn1"

 The Government contends that the seizure was justified because 'incident to a lawful arrest'; the defendant argues that regardless of the lawfulness of the arrest, the seizure was invalid because (a) the testimony of Detective Talbot and Mr. Sklar reveals that the purpose of the visit to his apartment was to conduct a search and thus the arrest was 'incident' to the search rather than vice versa; (b) he did not consent to such a search; and (c) there were no 'exceptional circumstances' to justify making the search without a warrant.

 The Court agrees with each of defendant's contentions and reads the applicable case law interpreting the Fourth Amendment's guarantee that

 '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'

 to require suppression of the controverted evidence without resolution of the disputed points outlined above.

 (a) Although the Government contends that the two plain-clothes men and the complaining witness went to defendant's apartment to 'talk with him' about the reports of his possible involvement in these three robberies so that his arrest, if he were innocent, could be avoided, the Court concludes, after a careful review of the record and balancing the inferences which could be drawn therefrom, that the purpose of the visit was to make, if possible, the kind of search and seizure which ensued. That the officers told Mr. Sklar, on being asked whether they had any hope for recovery of his missing goods, that they 'had some information that they might be able to return it to me'; that they had Mr. Sklar show them tables of the type missing; that they brought Mr. Sklar with them to defendant's apartment; and that they began searching immediately upon entering the apartment all support this conclusion.

 (b) The Government's further contention that even if the officers intended to search the apartment, defendant consented to the search, and thus waived any right to complain that it violated the Fourth Amendment, is not ...


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