Last week, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police officers did not have probable cause to seize a burglary suspect on his front porch.
Bradley Soza — represented in this appeal by Bailey & Glasser and the William & Mary Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic — was arrested without probable cause when officers confronted him on his front porch with their weapons drawn and then handcuffed him.
In Unites States v. Sosa, the Tenth Circuit held that Soza was unlawfully arrested because the officers’ only reason to suspect him was his generic resemblance to a suspect in an alleged burglary nearby. The opinion can be read here.
The officers had responded to a 911 report of a break-in in Soza’s neighborhood. While circling the building of the alleged break-in, one of the officers saw Soza walking from his home and ordered him to go inside. Soza immediately complied by turning and walking back to his house.
A few minutes later, the officers decided to seek out Soza because he may have matched the 911 caller’s description of the suspected burglar. Because he fit the rough description of the suspect — an adult Hispanic male in a grey sweatshirt and baseball cap — officers drew their guns and came up on the porch where Soza was standing. They ordered Soza to put his hands on his head. Soza again complied. The officers then handcuffed Soza and searched him.
Soza’s original attorneys argued that evidence discovered in that search should be suppressed, contending that it was an unlawful search because the officers didn’t have a warrant or probable cause to suspect him. The district court denied the motion to suppress.
On appeal, Soza was represented by Bailey & Glasser and the William & Mary clinic. The appeals court agreed with the argument that, even had the arrest been made in public and not on Soza’s porch, it would have been unlawful. The arresting officers had no reason to believe Soza was armed. He had been calm and compliant throughout their encounter. That Soza matched a generic description of the suspect did not justify the forceful techniques used to detain him, the court ruled.