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Steagald v. United States


A federal agent in Detroit was contacted by a confidential informant who suggested that he might be able to locate Ricky Lyons, a federal fugitive. The informant gave the agent a telephone number in the Atlanta area where, according to the informant, Lyons could be reached during the next twenty-four hours. The information was relayed to agents in Atlanta, who learned that the telephone number was assigned to Steagald’s house.

Two days later, agents went to the address to execute an arrest warrant for Lyons. They observed two men, Gaultney and Steagald, standing in front of the house. The agents frisked and identified the two men. Several agents proceeded to the house. Gaultney’s wife answered the door. She was detained while one agent searched the house for Lyons. Lyons was not found, but during the search of the house the agent observed what he believed to be cocaine. An agent was sent to secure a search warrant and in the meantime, a second search was conducted and incriminating evidence was discovered. During the third search of the house (which was conducted with the search warrant) forty-three pounds of cocaine were found.


Whether the evidence from all three searches was illegally obtained because the agents failed to obtain a search warrant before entering the house?


Yes. An arrest warrant for a suspect does not grant the authority to enter a third- party’s home to effect the arrest. A search warrant, consent or an exigency is necessary to do so.


The Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to a dwelling, and, absent a warrant, exigent circumstances or consent, that threshold may not be crossed. The purpose of a warrant is to allow a neutral and detached magistrate to assess whether the government has probable cause to make an arrest or conduct a search.

An arrest warrant authorizing the agent to deprive a person of his liberty also authorizes a limited invasion of that person’s privacy when it is necessary to arrest him in his home. However, the arrest warrant does not authorize the government to deprive a third person of his liberty, nor does it include any authority to deprive that person of their interest in their home. Absent a search warrant, exigent circumstances or consent, law enforcement officers cannot search for the subject of an arrest warrant in the home of a third party.


451 U.S. 204, 101 S. Ct. 1642 (1981)

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