Skip to comments.Judge tosses detective's doorknob swab results [Ruled Violation of 4th Amendment]
Posted on 07/11/2005 10:59:31 AM PDT by Excuse_My_Bellicosity
Most visitors just knock on the door. But when a detective approached Troy Levi Miller's home one day last year, he made no attempt to contact anyone inside.
Instead, he wiped a sterile cloth over the doorknob and left.
A test on the cloth allegedly revealed traces of methamphetamine, and those results helped a narcotics task force get a warrant to search the South Salt Lake house. But now, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball has thrown out the test as a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.
Kimball's ruling was the third one from a federal court in Utah - and only the fourth in the nation - involving the Ionscan 400B, a machine that analyzes microscopic particles picked up by wiping a surface with a sterile cloth. The cloth is placed in the machine, which gives an alert when certain substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are found.
A doorknob is part of the private area of a residence and the officer should have gotten the search warrant before taking the swab, Kimball said.
"A visitor could not turn the doorknob without invading the privacy of the home's occupants - the only purpose for turning the doorknob is to gain access to the privacy of the home," the judge wrote in a June 30 decision. "A doorknob is not something that is transitory that could be borrowed, taken, or moved to another location. . . . It is a component part of the home."
However, Miller isn't off the hook. Kimball also decided there was enough other evidence, without the test results, to provide probable cause for a search warrant.
That leaves in place felony charges of possession of a controlled substance and aiding in the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine against the 34-year-old Miller.
Police argue that the presence of controlled substances shows that individuals who use or sell narcotics touched the tested area and is evidence of drug dealing in the residence.
The dispute over the technology centers on whether a doorknob is part of a home, a factor that helps determine whether police must get a search warrant before getting a swab. In addition, defense attorneys note that anyone can touch a doorknob, and argue that the mere presence of drug particles is no evidence of a crime.
The three Utah rulings and a 1999 decision out of the Virgin Islands have split on the issue.
In the Virgin Islands case, a trial judge threw out the analysis of a swab taken from a home's screen door, saying the search for marijuana residue violated the Fourth Amendment.
In Utah, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart took a similar stand, ruling in August that the Ionscan test of an Ogden man's doorknob required a warrant. However, he upheld a search of Anthony Diviase Mora's home, saying other evidence provided probable cause.
Just a few months before, his colleague, Judge Tena Campbell, refused to throw out evidence against Dennis Daybell of Magna obtained through an Ionscan test.
She said the procedure reveals nothing about the inside of a house and compared use of the machine to having a trained dog sniff for drugs.
Wonderful. So now I'm intimately responsible 100% of the time for anybody who shows up on my doorstep. If my scumbag brother-in-law comes over looking to borrow money, I stand to get my door kicked in, have my face shoved in my carpet with a knee on the back of my neck, and my house torn apart by the cops because I won't (can't) tell them "where the dope is". This isn't happening in Nazi Germany or the former USSR, it's happening right here. Very nice.
A crappy decision like the eminent domain one. What's next? Thoughtcrime?
Chill out, dude... the court ruled against the police!
That's a crappy ruling?
I understand, I just got riled that this practice was ever justified and used. And the cops see nothing wrong with it.
More BS lies from cops. They tried this crap in FL. They figured they could test money for "traces" of cocaine in the 80's, and arrest those whose money had traces on it. Guess what, virtually ALL of the money in some places like Miami have coke traces on it. You'd never be able to track it to anybody. I am sick of cops being so unpatriotic and thinking they are better than everyone else.
The conviction should be thrown out. American currency will routinely show traces of drugs. Money passes through many hands...
Ok, that's one way to look at it.
Of course, why would the police be testing your doorknob, out of the hundreds of millions of doorknobs? They would have to have some reason to think that testing your doorknob would reveal something interesting.
The 4th amendment protected us from having people break into our houses and trash them looking for evidence they could use against us. Having a person walk up to my door just doesn't seem like much of a violation.
By this reasoning, a police officer shouldn't be allowed to ring my doorbell, since the doorbell is part of my house. Ringing the doorbell might cause me to come to the door, and my presence might provide clues, or I might be persuaded to let him in to look around -- so ringing without warrant to ring should be illegal.
I wonder who owns the outside door knobs in a condominium?
The 4th amendment was not intended to protect criminals from being caught. This is not a game. It was intended to minimize the inconvenience to citizens from law enforcement activities.
And I note that having found drugs on the door knob is not itself probably cause to invade your house. The information has to be taken to a judge, who can make the same judgment about the meaning of the evidence as he does already with other evidence. Surely judges realise that people touch door knobs, and would want some other information as to why it is rational that the drugs found are related to the house.
The poster has a bigger problem. If you really have a low-life druggie who comes to your house, if he sits in your living room for too long the police state can seize your house, without a trial, on the excuse that you harbored a drug addict. You would have to then go to court to prove that you had no idea he was a druggie. You probably won't win.
All that being said, it would seem prudent to get a judge to sign a warrant to do a swab test, rather than wait for the test to go to court.....
Unfortunately, the money involved when the cops can seize tens of thousands of dollars worth of private property (without ever charging anyone with a crime), sell that property and then use the proceeds to fund and even BIGGER anti-drug task force causes many cops to forget something as small as the Constitution. Besides there are innumerable cops who will do anything that their boss tells them as long as they think a judge will go along with it.
so will this work on a vehicle? if so *I* say we should see how many cops are "dealing drugs" out of their patrol cars.
You forgot your sarcasm tag.
Of course, why would the police be testing your doorknob, out of the hundreds of millions of doorknobs? They would have to have some reason to think that testing your doorknob would reveal something interesting.The informant who just touched the door perhaps. This standard makes it way too easy to set someone up for a search.
For instance, if the police are looking for an arsonist, and find traces of accelerants outside a house, that doesn't prove any crime, but it does show reasonable grounds to search for evidence of a crime. All four court decisions referenced in this article agreed on this point. They disagreed only on whether the outside door knob was "public" or "private" for purposes of a warrantless search.
I bought my car used (lo miles, great condition) from a rental car agency. What if some low life had smoked pot or used drugs or tranpsorted explosives, etc. in it and left traces and I got stopped by the police? What if they used one of those drug dogs? (and yes, I've had it cleaned and vacuumed, but still,..)
You could be in big trouble and expense because of someone elses behavior or actions. Same thing with your doorknobs and the outside of your house. How would you know if someone planted drugs etc. around the perimeter of your house or garage?
Suppose some doped-up burglar tries your door, finds it locked, and leaves behind traces of drugs on the knob? You report an attempted burglary, the cops test the knob, and you get arrested? This lowers my respect for the cops a little more, and it was pretty low to start with.
Amen I aam glad this was thrown out.
Well at least they didn't shoot a baby to protect themselves.
What's next? Thoughtcrime?
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