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Carroll v. Carman

United States Supreme Court

November 10, 2014



Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan.



On July 3, 2009, the Pennsylvania State Police Department received a report that a man named Michael Zita had stolen a car and two loaded handguns. The report also said that Zita might have fled to the home of Andrew and Karen Carman. The department sent Officers Jeremy Carroll and Brian Roberts to the Carmans' home to investigate. Neither officer had been to the home before. 749 F.3d 192, 195 (CA3 2014).

The officers arrived in separate patrol cars around 2:30 p.m. The Carmans' house sat on a corner lot--the front of the house faced a main street while the left (as viewed from the front) faced a side street. The officers initially drove to the front of the house, but after discovering that parking was not available there, turned right onto the side street. As they did so, they saw several cars parked side-by-side in a gravel parking area on the left side of the Carmans' property. The officers parked in the " first available spot," at " the far rear of the property." Ibid. (quoting Tr. 70 (Apr. 8, 2013)).

The officers exited their patrol cars. As they looked toward the house, the officers saw a small structure (either a carport or a shed) with its door open and a light on. Id., at 71. Thinking someone might be inside, Officer Carroll walked over, " poked [his] head" in, and said " Pennsylvania State Police." 749 F.3d, at 195 (quoting Tr. 71 (Apr. 8, 2013); alteration in original). No one was there, however, so the officers continued walking toward the house. As they approached, they saw a sliding glass door that opened onto a ground-level deck. Carroll thought the sliding glass door " looked like a customary entryway," so he and Officer Roberts decided to knock on it. 749 F.3d, at 195 (quoting Tr. 83 (Apr. 8, 2013)).

As the officers stepped onto the deck, a man came out of the house and " belligerent[ly] and aggressively approached" them. 749 F.3d, at 195. The officers identified themselves, explained they were looking for Michael Zita, and asked the man for his name. The man refused to answer. Instead, he turned away from the officers and appeared to reach for his waist. Id., at 195-196. Carroll grabbed the man's right arm to make sure he was not reaching for a weapon. The man twisted away from Carroll, lost his balance, and fell into the yard. Id., at 196.

At that point, a woman came out of the house and asked what was happening. The officers again explained that they were looking for Zita. The woman then identified herself as Karen Carman, identified the man as her husband, Andrew Carman, and told the officers that Zita was not there. In response, the officers asked for permission to search the house for Zita. Karen Carman consented, and everyone went inside. Ibid.

The officers searched the house, but did not find Zita. They then left. The Carmans were not charged with any crimes. Ibid.

The Carmans later sued Officer Carroll in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Among other things, they alleged that Carroll unlawfully entered their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment when he went into their backyard and onto their deck without a warrant. 749 F.3d, at 196.

At trial, Carroll argued that his entry was lawful under the " knock and talk" exception to the warrant requirement. That exception, he contended, allows officers to knock on someone's door, so long as they stay " on those portions of [the] property that the general public is allowed to go on." Tr. 7 (Apr. 8, 2013). The Carmans responded that a normal visitor would have gone to their front door, rather than into their backyard or onto their deck. Thus, they argued, the " knock and talk" exception did not apply.

At the close of Carroll's case in chief, the parties each moved for judgment as a matter of law. The District Court denied both motions, and sent the case to a jury. As relevant here, the District Court instructed the jury that the " knock and talk" exception " allows officers without a warrant to knock on a resident's door or otherwise approach the residence seeking to speak to the inhabitants, just as any private citizen might." Id., at 24 (Apr. 10, 2013). The District Court further explained that " officers should restrict their movements to walkways, driveways, porches and places where visitors could be expected to go." Ibid. The jury then returned a verdict for Carroll.

The Carmans appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed in relevant part. The court held that Officer Carroll violated the Fourth Amendment as a matter of law because the " knock and talk" exception " requires that police officers begin their encounter at the front door, where they have an implied invitation to go." 749 F.3d, at 199. The court also held that Carroll was not entitled to qualified immunity because his actions violated clearly established law. Ibid. The court therefore reversed the District Court and held that the Carmans were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Carroll petitioned for certiorari. We grant the petition and reverse the Third Circuit's determination that Carroll was ...

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