United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Robert Anthony House's motion to
suppress. (Doc. 20). The Court held a hearing on the motion
on December 6, 2019. ATF Special Agents Phillip Swain and
Ryan Young testified for the Government. For the following
reasons, the Court grants the motion.
spring 2019, the Billings Police Department responded to a
911 call concerning a citizen behaving erratically. BPD
officers located and detained the citizen, later identified
as Robert Anthony House, and transported him to a local
hospital for treatment. Due to House's behavior, the
hospital's security guard searched House and his
backpack. In House's jacket, the security guard found a
knife. In the backpack, the security guard found narcotics,
drug paraphernalia, and a Taurus pistol. BPD officers took
custody of the backpack and its contents and the matter was
later referred to ATF Special Agent Philip Swain.
receiving the case, Special Agent Swain inspected the
backpack. He found no identifying information in or on the
backpack, but he did find what looked like a silver house
key. Special Agent Swain determined House lived with his
mother over in East Helena, three hours away. Wondering if
the silver house key could tie House to the backpack, Special
Agent Swain FedExed it to Helena-based ATF Special Agent Ryan
Agent Young received the key and drove out to the residence.
The residence was in a rural area, down a long driveway. At
the front of the driveway was a large swinging gate with
signs that said "POSTED NO TRESPASSING" and
"POSTED NO TRESPASSING KEEP OUT." On this day, the
gate was open.
Agent Young drove down the driveway to the residence. The
residence had a front deck and attached garage. There was a
vehicle parked in front of the garage. Special Agent Young
approached the front door, knocked, and asked "is
anybody home?" When he received no answer, Special Agent
Young tried to insert the silver key into the front
door's two locks. It didn't fit either lock. Special
Agent Young walked over to the attached garage and inserted
the key into the garage's entry door lock. The key snugly
turned the lock. Special Agent Young turned the door handle
and opened the entry door a few inches to confirm the key had
unlocked the door. He then closed the door and relocked it
with the key.
was indicted for being a prohibited person in possession of a
firearm under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g). He filed this
motion to suppress evidence that the silver key fit the
attached garage's entry door.
question before the Court is whether the insertion of a key
into an attached garage's lock by a federal agent is a
search requiring a search warrant or warrant exception. The
Court holds that it is.
United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court
supplemented the traditional Katz test for a search
by formulating what it called a "physical
intrusion" test. Under United States v. Katz, a
search occurs when the government invades a place in which a
person has an expectation of privacy and society is willing
to recognize the person's expectation as reasonable. 389
U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). For over 40
years, the Katz test determined whether government
conduct was a search. But the Katz test proved an
awkward fit for the government's conduct in
Jones, the government mounted a GPS tracker on a
citizen's car and argued under Katz it had not
committed a search because the citizen had no reasonable
expectation of privacy in his whereabouts on public roads.
565 U.S. 400, 406 (2012). The Supreme Court agreed the
government's conduct was not a search under Katz
but explained the Fourth Amendment also shielded citizens
from government trespass into houses, papers, and effects.
565 U.S. at 406-407. Because placing a GPS tracker on a car
to obtain information was the sort of physical intrusion
common law would have recognized as a government trespass,
and because a car was an "effect," the government
had searched the car by placing a GPS tracker on it. 565 U.S.
Supreme Court elaborated on the Jones physical
intrusion test in Florida v. Jardines. In
Jardines, the police walked up to a citizen's
front door with a trained narcotics dog. The dog sniffed the
base of the front door and indicated to the officers that
narcotics were present behind the door. 569 U.S. 1, 4 (2013).
Building on Jones, the Supreme Court held the police
had committed a search because they physically intruded into
a protected area-the home and its curtilage-to gather
information, and had exceeded any implied permission the
homeowner may have given to the public to approach the home
and knock when they used a narcotics dog to sniff the door.
569 U.S. at 10-11.
and Jardines were limited to whether the government
conduct was a search; neither answered whether the search at
issue was reasonable. Five years after Jardines,
however, the Supreme Court held a warrantless physical
intrusion into the home or its curtilage is ...