United States v. Brinkley, No. 18-4455 (4th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Brinkley was subject to an arrest warrant. An ATF analyst identified possible addresses. Because a water bill for one address was in Brinkley’s name, Agent Murphy believed that address was Brinkley’s most likely residence. Another address was an apartment. Detective Stark also found multiple addresses, including the apartment. Brinkley’s Facebook page led Starck to believe that Brinkley was dating Chisholm, who was associated with the apartment.
Officers went to the apartment. Chisholm opened the door, denied that Brinkley was there, grew “very nervous” and looked behind her. The officers saw another woman and heard movement from a back room. Chisholm stated that she did not want the officers to enter and asked whether they had a warrant. Murphy later testified that the sounds and the women’s reactions led him to believe that Brinkley was in the apartment. Five uniformed, armed officers entered and found Brinkley in a bedroom, then conducted a protective sweep and saw digital scales, a baggie containing cocaine base, and a bullet. They obtained a search warrant and seized firearms. Brinkley was charged with felon-in-possession counts, possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, and firearm possession in furtherance of a drug offense.
The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. Though the officers developed a well-founded suspicion that Brinkley might have stayed in the apartment at times, they failed to establish probable cause that he resided there. Because they entered the apartment pursuant solely to the authority of the arrest warrant, their entry was unlawful. When police have limited reason to believe a suspect resides in a home, generic signs of life inside and understandably nervous reactions from residents, without more, do not amount to probable cause that the suspect is present within.