[T}he police officer conducting a search or seizure under one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement – is not that they always be correct, but that they always be reasonable.”. Id at 186.

Illinois v. Rodriguez

497 U.S. 177 (1990)

U.S. Supreme Court

On July 26, 1985, at about 2:30 p.m. Chicago Police Officers James Entress and Ricky Gutierrez received a radio call from another officer instructing them to proceed to a residence at 3554 South Wolcott in Chicago, Illinois, the home of Ms. Dorothy Jackson,  on a report of domestic violence.  The officers were met there by Ms. Gale Fischer.  Ms. Fischer told them that earlier in the day, at approximately 11 a.m. her boyfriend Mr. Edward Rodriguez, had beaten her at “their apartment at 3519 South California.”  Officer Entress observed that Ms. Fischer’s jaw was swollen, she had a black eye and bruises on her neck.  Officer Entress stated, “She looked like she was the victim of a beating.”  Later it was determined that Ms. Fischer had sustained a broken jaw.

Ms. Dorothy Jackson was Ms. Gale Fischer’s mother and lived here at 3554 South Wolcott, Chicago, Illinois.  The house is where Chicago Police Officers James Entress and Ricky Gutierrez met Ms. Gale Fischer.  The home is the one located behind the very large pine tree.

Officer Entress testified that Ms. Fischer also told them that she wanted to sign a complaint and that all her clothes and furniture were at the apartment on California Avenue.  [Note: In the 1980’s it was common for domestic violence victims to sign statements to initiate domestic violence criminal charges.] She told Officer Entress that she had been living with respondent at that apartment.  Ms. Fischer also told the officers that she had her own key and would open the door for them in order to arrest Mr. Rodriguez, whom she believed was sleeping in the apartment.

At the suppression hearing, Officer Entress was asked if he had testified at a preliminary hearing on September 11, 1985 that, “She [Ms. Fischer] stated she used to live there.”  Officer Entress agreed that he had so testified but stated at the hearing on the motion to suppress that Ms. Fischer exact words were that, “She had been living there.”  Ms. Fischer kept using the word “our” apartment, when referring to 3519 South California Avenue. Officer Entress was never told that Ms. Fischer had been living with her mother prior to the beating. In short, Ms. Fischer had repeatedly lied to Officer Entress.

After the initial conversation with Ms. Fischer, the officers as well as Ms. Fischer and her mother, Ms. Jackson, proceeded to 3519 South California.  Ms. Fischer walked up to the door, opened the door with a key and allowed the officers to enter the apartment.  Officer Entress testified that Ms. Fischer stated it was her key.  Ms. Fischer and her mother returned to the police vehicle, while the officers entered the apartment.  The officers noticed a bed in the middle of the room.  There were drug paraphernalia such as scales and pipes that were scattered on the bed.

Mr. Edward Rodriguez lived here at 3519 South California Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.  Ms. Gale Fischer repeatedly lied to the officers, alleging she lived with Mr. Rodriguez.

Officer Entress testified that in order to enter the bedroom, they had to walk past some Tupperware that was uncovered and in plain view.  The officer noticed a white powder inside the Tupperware that he suspected to be cocaine.  At that time, the officers did not pick up or handle anything. Instead, they proceeded directly into the bedroom where respondent was sleeping.  As the officers were attempting to wake Mr. Rodriguez, they saw two open briefcases by the side of the bed.  Inside these briefcases were clear plastic bags containing a white substance that was similar in appearance to the substance they had just seen in the Tupperware in the living room.  Mr. Rodriquez had more packages prepared for delivery than a Federal Express loading dock.

Upon awakening, Mr. Rodriguez asked the officers if he could get his money from a dresser drawer in the front room.  Mr. Rodriguez opened the drawer and Officer Entress saw $452.00 and another clear packet containing a white substance.

Mr. Rodriguez was arrested for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and transported to the police station where the officers then inventoried the evidence collected at the apartment. More than thirty grams of cocaine were obtained inside 3519 South California Avenue.  This evidence included the controlled substance and cannabis sativa.  Ms. Fischer subsequently signed a battery complaint against Ms. Fischer.

Examination by the trial judge also elicited the following testimony from Ms. Fischer:  her name was not on the lease for the apartment, she did not contribute to rent payments in June or July, although she did use her check to pay for their bills and groceries – she never invited friends to the apartment and she never went to respondent’s home when he was not there.

The trial court held that Ms. Fischer did not have the actual authority to consent to the police officers’ entry of the apartment on California Avenue.  The court based its decision on its finding that Ms. Fischer’s name was not on the lease, she did not contribute to the rent, it was not her exclusive or usual place of residence, she did not have access when Mr. Rodriguez was not there, she never brought people there and she moved her clothes and children to her mother’s home.  The Illinois Appellate Court agreed and noted further that Illinois cases had interpreted the Fourth Amendment as prohibiting an apparent authority to consent doctrine.

All of the cocaine was suppressed, and Mr. Rodriquez was acquitted of the drug charges at the trial court.  The appellate court upheld the suppression of the cocaine and the Illinois Supreme Court denied to hear the case.  The State of Illinois and City of Chicago appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which held “It is apparent that in order to satisfy the “reasonableness” requirement of the Fourth Amendment, what is generally demanded of the many factual determinations that must regularly be made by … the police officer conducting a search or seizure under one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement – is not that they always be correct, but that they always be reasonable.”. Id at 186.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Law enforcement officers do not have to be right … only reasonable. In this case Chicago Police Officers James Entress and Ricky Gutierrez were wrong … but reasonable.  Fischer was at her mom’s house, had obvious bruising of a recent assault which she explained was at the hands of her live-in boyfriend Mr. Edward Rodriguez.  Ms. Fischer knew the address, which was 1.4 miles away, had a key and was able to predict that Mr. Rodriquez would be sleeping upon the officer’s arrival.  The trial court later determined that Ms. Fischer had lied to the officers and she did not live at Mr. Rodriguez’s apartment.  The court titled Ms. Fischer as a ‘infrequent visitor’. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court held that Officers Entress and Gutierrez reasonably believed that Ms. Fischer did live in the home when they entered with her key.
  1. Law enforcement officers must take some time to determine the validity of a person’s statement on where s/he resides. Some indicators that can be readily determined:

Does the person know the address of the residence?

Does the person have a key?

Does the person get mail at the residence?

How long has s/he lived in the residence?

Does the person have clothing or other personal articles in the residence?

Is the person on the lease of the residence?

Can the person describe the interior?

Can the person identify other occupants of the residence?

These are just some, but not all of the questions that would provide law enforcement an opportunity to evaluate the person’s claim that s/he live in a residence.

  1. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme court remanded [sent back] the case to the trial court for that court to make a determination if the officers made a factual determination if Ms. Fischer resided at 3519 South California. But the takeaway for law enforcement is that the next time someone lies to you AND you believe the lie, was it reasonable?  Did the officer take the time to ask questions to confirm the information?  If the answer is yes then the action taken by law enforcement, even if wrong, may be reasonable.  If the answer is no, then it is likely the actions taken by law enforcement will be unreasonable.

Information for this article was obtained from Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990) and United States Supreme Court Petitioner’s Brief for Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990).

Does your agency train on Crossing the Threshold?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and objectively reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.