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USA v. Roche-Martinez, 05-4618.  Roche-Martinez pleaded guilty to being in the United States after being deported following a conviction for an aggravated felony, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b)(2).

The police arrested Roche-Martinez in a garage behind his mother’s residence after entering the property without a search or an arrest warrant. Roche-Martinez filed a motion to quash his arrest and suppress illegally seized evidence.

The district court denied the motion and sentenced Roche-Martinez to 57 months in prison. Martinez appeals the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress.

Specifically, Roche-Martinez claims that because the policeillegally entered his home, all evidence of his presence in the United States on that day is the fruit of that illegal search and must be excluded. Moreover, he argues that without the evidence of his presence, the Court must quash his arrest.

When reviewing an appeal from a district court’s denial of a motion to suppress, the 7th Circuit reviews legal conclusions de novo and findings of fact for clear error. United States v. Robeles-Ortega, 348 F.3d 679, 681 (7th Cir. 2003).  For purposes of this appeal, the 7th Circuit assume the entry was illegal.

The 7th Circuit starts by stating that this case is governed by New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14, 18 (1990), in which the Supreme Court held that unlawful entry into the home of a criminal defendant does not make the defendant’s subsequent detention unlawful if probable cause existed to arrest the defendant. 

Here, the police had probable cause to arrest Roche-Martinez.  Consequently, even though the police did not have a warrant or consent to enter his residence, Roche-Martinez’s subsequent detention was lawful and the district court correctly ruled that the evidence collected during Roche-Martinez’s detention, namely, his identity, was admissible, and not tainted by the earlier unlawful entry into his mother’s residence.

The 7th Circuit concludes by stating that though Harris precludes relief from Roche-Martinez’s criminal conviction, this holding today in no way sanctions the police officer’s decision not to seek a search or an arrest warrant. Justice Marshall, dissenting in Harris, warned that under the Harris rule, a logical police officer will make a rational choice to violate the Constitution rather than first obtaining a search or arrest warrant, because the “evidence will be admissible regardless of whether it was the product of [an] unconstitutional arrest.” Harris, 495 U.S. at 32 (Marshall, J., dissenting). There were no exigent circumstances here.

In short, despite the 7th Circuit’s unease regarding the facts of this case, Justice Marshall’s opinion is not the law, and Harris controls our decision.


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